Outperforming schools and bargain Victorian conversions. When did Hackney’s backyard become its star attraction?
“Clapton! That’s where you end up if you fall asleep on the bus isn’t it?” is my editor’s response when I pitch a piece on this overlooked corner of Hackney.
To be fair, there’s plenty of good reason to avoid Clapton – one of its own councillors admits it has no real town centre, and that it “lacks a main focal point”.
And then there’s its little pet areas.
For years, Upper Clapton Road was known as ‘Murder Mile’, quite possibly the worst moniker for a street imaginable. In fact, while big brothers Dalston and Stoke Newington bloomed (Stokey quite literally with a much publicised baby boom), Clapton remained the hard to reach underdog with little to boast but angry graffiti, boarded up high streets and pound shops.
Now all that is changing. On Upper Clapton Road, in place of the notorious Palace Pavilion nightclub (yes, that really was its name), is an Ethiopian Orthodox church. While next door stands the just opened Clapton Hart Pub – a virtuoso exemplar of the trendy shabby chic type watering hole that signals an area is officially cool.
The pub’s stylish barmaid admits the area is still “pretty rough”, but that there’s no denying that given the young families who descend there on Sundays, and the “trendy Claptonites” who take over on Fridays, a lot has changed. There are no more shootings for one thing.
“Lower Clapton is already completely gentrified”
Councillor Michael Desmond
Unsurprisingly, all this has reflected in the area’s house prices. Mortgage specialist and estate agent, George Athanasi, has sold property in the area for the last 20 years.
He cites a 10% increase on average house prices in the last year alone and explains why Clapton is bucking the trend.
“Though the lending market for mortgages has been tight, second-time buyers can move into this area, and for the same money that they sell a property in Islington, can buy a larger Victorian conversion in Clapton.”
Average property prices in Clapton
One bed period conversion with no outdoor space £200-210,000
One bed period conversion with garden £250,000
Three bed / split level period conversion with outdoor space £370-400,000
And it’s not just the lure of cheap Victorian property. Next door, Hackney Wick and Stratford have had serious makeovers. Now Clapton sits on the edge of a shiny new East End.
“For us it’s not the ‘Olympic effect’ as such, but the regeneration that’s been going on due to the Olympics has definitely helped local businesses and trade come into the area,” says Athanasi.
But not all of Clapton has benefited from the Olympics legacy – or at least not equally anyway. Clapton is actually two places: Lower Clapton to the south and Upper Clapton to the north. To the outsider they may seem one and the same, but locals will tell you they’re very different; that while Lower Clapton has caught up with the rest of yuppified Hackney, Upper Clapton is still, well, a bit of a dump.
Councillor Michael Desmond has been a councillor in the area since 2004. As far as he’s concerned Lower Clapton is already “completely gentrified, house prices have gone right up”, and like many, he cites Chatsworth Road and its delis, wine bar, creperie and food market, as being at the heart of Clapton’s revival.
He admits, however, that Upper Clapton still has a way to go: “Crime is down 34% over the last three years thanks to effective policing, CCTV and the closure of the Pavilion Palace nightclub, but what Clapton really needs is a town centre, a main focal point, and we’re working on creating one” says Cllr Desmond.
Like Athanasi, he talks about the stock of attractive Victorian houses and also points to the dramatic rise in the quality of schooling in the area.
Before Mossbourne Academy was a school so bad they knocked it down, built a new one, and brought in a superstar head teacher
Clapton now boasts two schools awarded academy status: Clapton’s Girls Academy and Mossbourne Community Academy. It’s likely you’ll have already heard of Mossbourne; it’s become something of the poster boy for the academy movement.
Before Mossbourne Academy was a school so bad they knocked it down, built a new one, and brought in a superstar head teacher, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Sir Clive Bourne, now deceased, was the sponsor of the academy and gave £2m towards rebuilding the school.
It worked, exam results have soared. And now, with 89% of students achieving 5A*-C GCSEs against the national average of 58%, it is one of the best non-selective schools in the country and has been in the media ever since. (Incidentally so has Wilshaw who has gone on to become the new chief of Ofsted while Peter Hughes has replaced him as principal of Mossbourne).
So now Clapton kids stand a chance of going to Oxbridge and families are clamouring to get their children into Mossbourne’s feeder schools as a result. Meanwhile those feeder schools, Rushmore Primary and Millifield Community School, aren’t doing too badly either. (At Millfield the number of pupils who achieved top grades in their maths SATS doubled in 2011.)
But what about when you’re kids aren’t at school, or you’re not at work? As well as hugging the banks of the River Lee (London’s second river), and the marshes beyond, Clapton is home to Springfield Park. This 40 acre expanse of green, (which crosses Upper Clapton into Stamford Hill) is pretty much everything a community park should be: football pitch, tennis courts, a delightful café, outdoor gym apparatus, community allotments, cricket pitch, a bandstand, flower beds – the list goes on.
Over in Lower Clapton are green spaces worth shouting about too – notably Hackney Marshes which it borders with Hackney Wick. For years this grassland remained largely underused, but of course winning the Olympics bid in 2005 changed all that and it’s enjoyed considerable regeneration.
Leigh Sims of Hackney Council project led the Hackney Marshes Legacy Programme. Now, for the frist time in 50 years, cricket is played on the marshes. Come 2013 and the area will join the Olympic site – to be renamed the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park. “It’s not a destination by itself at the moment,” admits Leigh, “But it soon will be”.
How long until the same can be said about Clapton is merely a matter of time.
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