Talking the past

Ebb and flow book cover

The changing face of Fitzrovia as told by pensioners

"I used to go to the dairy in Bolsover Street where they had a cow to get the milk and paid a penny a pint. There weren’t bottles, they used to put a china bowl out and then we used to help ourselves," says Winifred Ekpenyon in this fascinating collection of interviews with pensioners living around Carburton Street, Fitzrovia.   I was never fond of history in school, it was only later in life that I grew to enjoy it mostly when studying sociology at university. You couldn't study society without studying the history behind it. But reading this collection of oral history edited transcripts is like looking at an ethnographic study where the sociologist tries to give voice to the voiceless. Before anyone's put off, it's not a sociological study of life in Fitzrovia or ageing: it's a very readable collection of personal interviews by people who have a story to tell of their lives in Fitzrovia; how they came to live here, where they worked and how they have reflected on change. This collection lets the men and women tell their own story in their own way.

Although the 22 people come from a variety of backgrounds — some born here, many not — all of them talk about the importance of community. Time again the sell off of social housing in Fitzrovia is mentioned and how it has changed the stability of the neighbourhood. Flats that have been bought from the council often ended up the hands of private landlords who charged market prices and tenants came and went. Some landlords have, and continue to, illegally let them out as short-lets. This disrupted the sense of community for many of the participants in this collection as they looked fondly back to the time when the area, although a little run-down, kept a sense of belonging.

Ebb and Flow: Interviews with pensioners in and around Carburton Street, W1 will be published by the Fitzrovia Neighbourhood Association on Monday 26 July.

There will be a launch event at Fitzrovia Court, 24 Carburton Street, Fitzrovia, London W1W 5AS at 2.00pm Monday 26 July 2010. It is a free event with refreshments. All welcome.

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