Amechi Ihenacho was one of the last artists living on Dalston Lane. The high-concept fashion designer, pushed out by high rents, recently relocated to a warehouse apartment on Regent’s Canal in Haggerston.
“I can’t think of anywhere in Dalston where there are proper artists’ studios anymore,” he says, “it’s not like it used to be.”
So what happened? Once described in The Observer and Italian Vogue as the “coolest” area of London and long known for its thriving grassroots arts community, Dalston is changing.
And when the Daily Telegraph named the Dalston Superstore bar one of the top five places to visit during this year’s London Fashion Week, alarm bells rang in the local arts community.
The East London line will open next month, connecting Dalston the short two miles to the City and eventually down to Surrey.
“House prices and rents will rise again this year, about 5 per cent,” predicts Tim Gorgulu, Director, Courtneys Estate Agents.
“We are attracting a different clientele – professionals, barristers and City workers,” he says.
There is a real fear in the arts community that “the Shoreditch effect” will take hold. Mass commercialisation, astronomical property prices and gentrification are very real prospects for the area that inspired the famous Walford sets of EastEnders.
“I think it’s inevitable,” says Andrew Doig, a musician involved in Bardens Boudoir, a bar which puts on music, film and exhibitions. “Unfortunately the artists will move out of Dalston. It will become a different place.”
But Amechi looks further afield for signs of Dalston’s future.
“It’s going to be a bit like Notting Hill. You’re going to go down there and see a lot of tourists, there’s going to be a lot of drums being banged” he says.
Dalston isn’t like Shoreditch or Hoxton, he says, which were derelict before the artists took over.
“I remember being there when I was at university – it was cool, but there was literally nothing there. Dalston is more like Brixton. It had soul and it still does,” he says.
Colin Jones, who works for economic development organisation Hackney Co-operative Developments, agrees. Like Notting Hill, he says, Dalston has strong “indigenous” communities.
“Shoreditch always had a more transient community,” he says, “but in Dalston we have established communities. We’ve got a strong Turkish community, an Armenian community and of course a British community. It’s a firmly established area.
“I think the main issue is people turning their backs and assuming the gentrification of Dalston is inevitable, it’s ridiculous. There comes a point that people need to stay in this area,” he says.
But even if the more “transient” types “turn their back on Dalston”, it’s not over.
“The communities in the area express themselves through art in ways you or I rarely see. If we can include them and bring that out, that could be the key to keeping Dalston’s individual identity and arts community alive,” says Colin.