London is undergoing a living crisis. With wages stagnating, the cost of living on the rise and a lack of affordable housing, many Londoners are resorting to alternative ways of existing in the capital. We present two short films courtesy of ‘England Your England’ that discuss a very modern problem plaguing the city today.
I came off the tube at Mile End and he was there. He was there every Friday and as usual the knackered masses funnelled past him, some minor inconvenience standing in the way of progress, a microwave meal and ten pints of flat lager.
“GOD WILL RELIEVE YOU OF YOUR SINS, REPENT INTO THE ARMS OF THE LORD.”
The street preacher is a strange guy, a throwback to bygone times. Like a broken record he dutifully spends his Fridays spreading the good word to those who he considers totally lost in the maelstrom of modern British existence. Here, on the dull central partition of the Mile End Road, he targets the commuting classes, currently resident in Zone 2. This is New London.
About two months ago I sat in a bar before work, trying to take the edge off the imminent start time with a few beers. It was at this point I started to consider why I worked. Why indeed? Rent sat at a cool £500 a month for a tiny box room in East London, while minimum wage lurked at £6.50. This meant 76 hours of my time were taken up per month by the never ending yoke of rent. Time is one of the only things we have to offer, one of the only constants in this world of £4 pints and peak fares and we waste it like a popular cliché.
Earning money is always based on time clauses. This uneasy paradox between two separate commodities used to mean that a comfortable living can be bought if you work hard enough. In today’s London it is a concept that is being shown to be false. The idea that someone can be homeless, whether sleeping rough or in temporary accommodation, and still be working is baffling to the core to many Brits. Especially when you consider the old saying of ‘every Englishman’s home is his castle’.
The story of Richard, a working homeless piano tuner is just one of many stories of hidden working homeless people in the capital. Homeless and happy, at least outwardly, without the debilitating preoccupation we have with rent and material possessions, Richard’s story is inspiring as much as it is telling of a serious problem in the capital.
In 2012, squatting in residential buildings was made illegal in England and Wales. The ramifications of this has meant that a growing number of homeless people faced the prospect of fines and up to six months in prison. In London, a city with one of the highest property prices in the world, yet paradoxically is estimated to have around 80,000 empty homes, is at the forefront of this divide. “Squatting” with its seemingly faecal connotations has for too long been portrayed in the media and by politicians alike as an act reserved for either the lowlife, the drug user, or the tree hugging hippie. This attempt to caricature squatting only deflects the attention away from the real problem with affordable housing in the capital. The idea that anyone could cheat the miserable system we have created is met with universal scorn. Why should they live for free when i’m paying £150 a week for the privilege next door? Yet the realties of squatting are often far removed from that in the public conscious.
The story of Pete, a musician and squatter from London was filmed just before the legislation change in August 2012. His story speaks volumes for a generation of artists who are left at the mercy of a fiscally minded city. Following an artistic dream in this city is nigh-on impossible if you are looking to live the conventional lifestyle of everyone else. The service industry is flooded with actors, musicians and painters unable to take an opportunity because they work all the time. This isn´t Haight Ashbury or the Chelsea Hotel. Perceived artistic hubs like Dalston and Shoreditch purvey pop up art shows where the main attraction is a Goldsmith´s graduate drawing a leaf in a latte.
“Economically, England is two nations, if not three or four.” wrote George Orwell, rather prosaically in the face of Nazi invasion in the original “England your England”. Matt Hopkins, the filmmaker behind the ‘England Your England’ (EYE) series puts a modern spin on this well-worn analogy. While Orwell´s England came together to see off the greater evil, our modern England appears to be tearing itself apart.
In the end, the street preacher isn´t really that different from the bedraggled commuters to whom he preaches. He just invests his time in something other than the prospect of more money. Tellingly he is the only one smiling in E3.
England Your England (EYE) is an ongoing documentary series created by filmmaker Matt Hopkins. The series showcases powerful stories from real people across the UK. The project aims to present the diversity of personal stories that define us as individuals, communities and as a nation.
You can watch more videos and read more about the project here