What’s life like in an inner-city village? Our chat with a Barbican resident
With East Village under a year away from becoming London’s first real neighbourhood, we’ve been chatting to people from all over the city, with the aim of taking the best bits of other communities and amalgamating them into one centre of East Village awesomeness.
We identified one of the only other self-contained large communities in London, The Barbican, and popped round to visit Anne-Marie, a resident there where she lives with her husband and three children.
A hugely coveted 1960s/70s residential estate, thanks largely to its Brutalist architecture and fantastic city-centre location, the estate is home to over 2000 flats (less than East Village) across 40 acres (also smaller than East Village!) – so we asked Anne-Marie to tell us about life in the Barbican Estate and how we can learn from their own unique village – and make ours even better.
What attracted you to live at the Barbican?
My husband and I were moving back to London and wanted it to be worth our while in terms of keeping the family together, as we had two small children at the time. It was the idea of coming into London, living near my husband’s work, but not compromising on space for the kids to be outside. At that time, in 1999, there were a small number of families at the Barbican; now there are absolutely loads of families with children.
Did architecture play a part in your decision?
I wouldn’t say it was the architecture, though for some people it definitely is. Some people seek out certain features; they’re very into that Brutalist architecture thing. Good transport links and safety were key for us, as we don’t have a car, and that we got. This is one of the safest places in the city and the kids can just run around and play. They’ve got immediate access to the communal gardens and there’s a play park. I let Natasha (7), go out all the time, which was very important to me. It was my dream to have somewhere they could run around safely. To that end, I’d say it’s almost a community for the children more than for the adults. The kids make friends with whoever’s out there.
How about the adult community?
The adults tend to know their immediate neighbours, people they work with and extended circles. People like working here, but they value their privacy too. They value the peace and quiet and, while they are polite and civil to each other, they are not in and out of one another’s pockets all the time. However, with the families with small children, that happens more.
Do you have any issues what with so many people living in one area?
The Barbican Estate office tends to be very strict, so people behave. If there was a party, they would be right over. There are house officers for each block, who keep an eye out to make sure people are not blocking fire exits, not putting things on their balconies and so on. Some of the blocks have house tenants’ groups, which they organise themselves; if there are problems they talk to the Barbican Estate office. I’ve lived in Islington and there was far more antisocial behaviour than I have found here. The police are even quite involved here – there is a sub-police station within the Barbican.
Do you think a friendly village can exist in London; a city where most keep themselves to themselves?
People say London isn’t friendly but that is not my experience! I tend to shop locally and I’m a familiar face to people around here. I find people quite friendly; I’m always helping lost souls who are wandering round the Barbican, looking for an exit. It’s not people living in each other’s pockets in London, but there’s a civility here.
Do you have a forum for residents?
We also have an online network called Barbican Talk. It’s a little nosy-neighbourish; I think you can probably do something better! There is an awful lot of “Oh what was that noise on Silk Street last night?” There are some people who have been here for twenty years and they are very set in their ways, and then there are new families who are making it all change, so there can be a bit of tension.
How do you work out that tension?
It all seems to work out really. It’s funny on a hot day here in the communal gardens. There are two gardens and the residents have to work out between them how they use the space. You’ll have the sunbathers, the little kids running round squirting each other with water pistols, the older people reading on their deckchairs, the younger blokes playing badminton…but it does work! People just have to be tolerant of one other. There are always lots and lots of picnics though and people chatting to each other, especially those with kids. It’s a lovely way to live.
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