There are many reasons why local people support safer streets in Bethnal Green.
While we've been out and about talking to people, they've been telling us their stories. They've talked about the benefits that the new seating areas and parks are bringing to their lives and their appreciation of local areas that are quieter and safer for all.
The strength in our campaign comes from the diversity of support for safer streets in our neighbourhood. People want to keep and improve what's here rather than spending money to go back to busy roads, dangerous streets and pollution.
Below are some of the stories we've begun to collect from local people. We thank all those who have shared with us for their enthusiasm, for speaking up and for joining the Save Our Streets campaign.
Tuesday, 16 August 2022
"The way the street is now, it gives me hope for my kids’ future. It feels like we are actually trying to do positive things for the environment."
Nimao, a student midwife lives on Old Bethnal Green Road with her two daughters, and the family often visits Bethnal Green Nature Reserve and Middleton Green.
"The whole area feels so much safer. We’ve always loved being outside, but I used to feel anxious in the back of my mind all the time because of the cars whizzing by. It was always chocka-block with people driving into central London. But now I’m free of that worry. I can relax while they play football and run around. It’s absolutely lovely, I love it!"
Nimao says her neighbourhood now feels closure to nature.
"I grew up on a farm in Somalia, so the natural world really resonates with me. I love London, but let’s face it – we are living with a lot of pollution here. It’s great to be able to take my kids to the nature reserve. When we first moved here in 2017 it felt like an escape from the city. When you’re inside, it feels like there is more oxygen, you can connect with yourself.
"I used to start worrying about traffic the second I stepped out of the gate to go home. But now there are fewer cars on the road it feels really safe, and you can bring the feeling of the nature reserve with you out into the park. It feels connected, like a jigsaw. The atmosphere is more relaxed."
And it’s not just the connection to nature that makes life better for Nimao. She says the community is friendlier, too.
“Sometimes I sit out there on the chairs, watching my kids in the park, and you meet so many neighbours that way. I hadn’t done that before. There are often old people sitting out there – Bengali, Somali, white… they just want to talk and connect. It’s kinda nice that they can share their experience. It’s amazing to hear their stories."
Nimao sees the street schemes as an important part of wider climate action.
"The environment is such a massive worry. When they changed the street, I felt hopeful, because it seemed like some real action at community level to do something about the environment. It gave me hope for my children – for their journey to school as they grow up, and for the planet they live on.
“If they change it back to how it was, it would be horrible. A nightmare. I just think we need to think about the children and the younger generation. The city has to change."
Monday, 1 August 2022
Sam navigates the neighbourhood using a wheelchair. The improvements to the road layout on Old Bethnal Green Road have had a real impact on his life, especially on his routine journeys to school with his son.
"I’ve been using a wheelchair for over a decade and the recent changes on Old Bethnal Green Road have made my life so much better. I travel the road from Cambridge Heath Road every weekday with my son on the way to school. In the bad old days, I almost got run over by speeding cars on a couple of occasions. It was terrifying. I feel so much safer as a vulnerable road user. Please keep the current design so I can keep taking my son to school safely and happily."
Saturday, 30 July 2022
"The closures have made life so much better for my family," says Maisha, the 22-year-old teaching assistant who lives with her mother and four siblings in a house that backs on to Pundersons Gardens.
"We moved to Bethnal Green in 2019, just before the changes happened. It was horrible how cars used to speed up and down all day and all night. The noise made it hard to go to sleep at night and it was hard to cross the road during the day."
Maisha's youngest brother is autistic, which means he is particularly sensitive to loud noise and sometimes struggles with road safety.
"My brother was very little and we used to avoid going out on the Pundersons Gardens side because it was too hard to keep him safe. As well as the speeding cars there would be big crowds hanging around, which felt really intimidating."
And even at home Maisha's family couldn't escape the noise of the traffic.
"Our garden is right next to the road. When we first moved in, the sound of car engines was really loud. I think they did it to show off. But my brother couldn't cope with the noise. He would scream and cry and come in the house - he couldn't even play in his own garden."
The family tried noise cancelling headphones but Maisha's brother found it easier just to stay inside. That all changed when Pundersons Gardens was closed off, however.
“The difference it has made to our quality of life is enormous. We can sleep better, my brother is calmer in his own home, and we all feel safe on the roads around our house.”
Maisha says she would be devastated to see the road re-open.
"I think you'd need a really strong argument to open it and I haven't heard one. I find it quite extreme to talk about ripping out all the closures. I think there are other solutions that could be put in place rather than scrapping everything. It doesn't have to be rushed - any changes should be discussed with the whole community."
Tuesday, 26 July 2022
“I’ve lived in the East End all my life, and this is the best thing that’s ever happened to it,” says Spencer about the new road layouts.
"It’s completely changed the energy of this area. I go out on my balcony now and it’s so quiet and peaceful. I love it."
The 50-year-old lift engineer says he was “proud” to be able to tell friends who used to live in his 19-storey block about how different the building and the area felt. As well as the sound of engines, he used to be disturbed late at night by loud music coming from cars.
"I kind of didn’t realise what we were putting up with before, all the background stress levels from the traffic noise."
Spencer says he’s a car owner himself, but his habits have changed as he has become more aware of the climate crisis.
I’m concerned about it, 100%. I went for a car with a smaller engine because of the environment and I’ve started to give myself brownie points every time I don’t use it. In London, we’ve got the best transport you can imagine. We’ve got trains and buses coming out of our ears. What more could you want?
"People need to look at the bigger picture. If we reverse this [scheme], we’re gonna have cars everywhere. This is a very dense area. If everyone had a car, the roads just aren’t big enough. You have to do something, or in the end, every road would be packed."
A longer car journey is a small price to pay for the improvements to the area, Spencer thinks.
"It actually makes me happy when Hackney Road is busy, because it’s a sign that there’s less traffic on the side roads. It’s a move in the right direction."
Spencer realises not everyone shares his opinion, but says that among his neighbours, even those who find the changes inconvenient, they can still see some of the benefits.
"They might be annoyed that they’ve got to wait longer for a taxi, or drive a bit further, but overall, they would much rather it stays like this because they like the peace and quiet."
With the long summer evenings, Spencer finds he can appreciate his beloved neighbourhood more than ever.
"After work, I’ve been sitting out in Arnold Circus. Those buildings are so beautiful, unique architecture. I used to think it was an insult to them, all those cars blaring their loud music. But now I can sit there to unwind and it’s just lovely, so much more pleasant. “I’ve always loved the East End. It’s my home. But now I think it’s the best it’s ever been.
Sunday, 24 July 2022
Tahura, a mum of four, including her son Yusuf, says:
"I bring my children through Old Bethnal Green Road every weekend and I like how we can walk through without worrying about traffic. Now we have this pedestrian area, everyone can access the park easily. I think, what's the point of green space if it's surrounded by traffic? Spaces like this are so important when we haven't got our own gardens."
This isn't a good situation: more cars, even more people, and all in the same space. What's clear is we need to discourage driving and we have to put more thought put into designing streets where people can walk, talk and play safely.
Friday, 22 July 2022
"I voted for the mayor, but not so he could destroy my area!" says Saciido. "I want it better, not worse!"
The nursery nurse and mother-of-one was "heartbroken" when she heard that her favourite seating spot on Old Bethnal Green Road might be taken away.
She says her neighbours in the building just behind the communal area are equally upset.
"Why do they want to remove this? They only put it in a year ago. I was so shocked when I heard about the plans."
She says her neighbours in the building just behind the communal area are equally upset.
"A lot of older people come out and sit here. When I explained the situation to them, they said 'No! They can't take this from us, it's not right! It's the only place we have to go when the weather is good.' That touches my heart, because they are like my grandmas, you know?"
Saciido moved to the area from Shoreditch seven years ago with her son, who is now at university and likes to play basketball on Middleton Green.
"We don't have our own gardens. I come down here, I use my phone, I watch my son playing in the park. Sometimes the children come over here playing. I watch them and I say, 'Thank you God, at least we have this space.'
"And now someone wants to come here and use it for cars and parking."
Saciido says that Old Bethnal Green Road was 'horrible' before the changes.
"There were a lot of cars here, it was noisy and dangerous for vulnerable people. Look at it now! I want to keep it like this. It's precious, like a diamond."
What she really wants to see is people working together.
"We love our area, the good and the bad. Tower Hamlets is a nice borough. If we talk, listen, work together, we can improve things for our children. I'd tell the mayor, improve things, don't destroy them! Don't take this place away, leave it alone!"
Wednesday, 20 July 2022
Dr Burman lives in Bethnal Green with his family. He is a Consultant in Respiratory Medicine, having worked in East London throughout his career.
"As a Respiratory Consultant and a father, I am very concerned about the impact of air pollution on the development of children's lungs and the health of those with respiratory conditions. Any changes that increase traffic on residential streets are risking people's health. I think the existing scheme has helped to protect the health of everyone in our community.
"I want to live where the streets are safe for our children to play and where there are spaces for everyone in our community to socialise together. Again, I think the current scheme has been a positive step, but even more could be done to improve this!"
Thursday, 14 July 2022
Mehraj Alam, 45, who lives on Teesdale Street and runs a local business, has come to appreciate the changes to Old Bethnal Green Road.
"I was livid when they first introduced it,"" he says. "I drive for work, and it's made that less convenient for me. But I have two kids at schools along this road and it has made the school run a much more pleasurable experience. It's great to walk along there and see other families on the way to school, it feels a lot safer without the morning rush of cars.
"We've bought our eldest a bike to get to school now and it's nice to know he's not breathing so many fumes. I think it's not just good for our kids, but for kids in future years."
Mehraj has some frustrations with the scheme, however, and some suggestions for improvements. He says what he really wants is for his voice to be heard.
"I think we need to calm down a little and talk this through... We have to find a middle ground and work together. Just as we're getting used to the new street, they want to change it back, but they need to talk to us properly first. It affects our daily lives, not theirs!
“What we need to do now is move forward as a community.”
Rob from Save our Safer Streets agrees.
"We're already starting to see the local community come together over this,"" he says. "We know we won't all agree on everything, but there are too many good things about this scheme to chuck it in the bin now. We just want the Council to slow down and listen to the whole community. Keep and improve rather than panic and remove!"
Wednesday, 13 July 2022
Derek Clifford, (81), who has lived on Old Bethnal Green Road for 46 years, says he has made “so many friends” by sitting on the chairs at the junction of Canrobert Street and Old Bethnal Green Road.
“It's a lovely spot!” Derek says. “I don't want it spoiled. People have got used to it now, we love it here. We don't want more changes! If they take away these red chairs, it would kill me. Where else am I going to meet people and talk to my friends? There's nowhere else for me to go.”