The impacts of regeneration on women in the Tower Hamlets
Grace Hill is a recent graduate from the University of Birmingham’s School of Social Policy, who received the Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary from Commonweal in her final year.
The Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary from Commonweal Housing gave me financial freedom. The £2,500 grant money allowed me to devote my time to my studies by drastically minimising the stress associated with financial difficulties. It also helped decrease any worries I had about supporting myself in my final year of studies.
My dissertation highlighted the experiences of urban regeneration among locals in the East London borough of Tower Hamlets. To uncover the impacts of regeneration, I conducted in-depth interviews with locals, mainly women, across Tower Hamlets, in which six themes emerged:
The changes in communities were also found to drastically affect women’s isolation. In interviews, many local residents felt ‘pushed out’, linking to a subsequent theme of the development not being designed for existing communities. The feeling of isolation disproportionately affected women echoing Elliott-Cooper, Hubbard and Lees’ (2020) study into the violence of ‘unhoming’ and the isolation that often follows.
A key theme revealed from the interviews was the concept of change. Changing communities, changing physical environments and changing housing were found to drastically shape the experience of existing residents in Tower Hamlets. While improvements in the physical landscape were appreciated, the impacts of regeneration jeopardised the close-knit nature of local communities and the affordability of housing in the area.
Similarly to ‘Change’, the overarching theme of money was categorised into three sub-sections. Increasing costs often resulted in residents being priced out, contributing to the isolating impacts of urban regeneration. A lack of affordable housing was also found to harm existing residents from a lower socio-economic background, while benefitting those with increased economic status. This showed the complexity of outcomes for residents in the regenerated urban area of Tower Hamlets.
Additionally, this highlighted the intersection of gender, class and race which was found to shape unique experiences of urban regeneration. In turn, this supports the necessity to provide an intersectional lens into the impacts of urban regeneration.
The role of investors was also discussed throughout interviews conducted in my research. Many locals attributed power in decision-making in urban regeneration schemes to private investors, highlighting the lack of power and autonomy many local residents felt.
- Women’s valuable roles in the community
Despite difficulties experienced among women in the local community, their roles continue to be considered significant. Women were noted to encourage the networking that results in strong local communities, highlighting how women often use the community to negotiate regenerated urban spaces.
- Scepticism towards opportunities for community involvement
Despite women’s valuable roles in maintaining kinship networks, barriers persisted in limiting their involvement to participate in decision-making associated with the urban regeneration of the local area. This resonates with the finding that investors often held disproportionate amounts of authority in decision-making around regeneration schemes. In turn, this contributed to women’s isolation and the harms that can emerge following urban regeneration. Additionally, many interviewees displayed a scepticism towards whether local communities are included in decision- making. Although many believed there was an intention to include local voices, it was deduced that power imbalances between stakeholders minimised the impact of this aim.
- Development is not for locals
The concluding theme that development is not for locals provided a critical assessment into who urban regeneration is designed for. The infrastructural changes that have affected housing, as well as the displacement that was commonly noted suggested that local needs were not at the forefront of considerations. Additionally, research participants drew attention to the gendered dimension of this finding. Interviewees informed me that many social spaces for men remained, whilst hubs for women were shut down and redesigned in efforts to support wider urban regeneration.
Altogether, my dissertation highlighted the need for literature to further explore women’s experiences of urban regeneration. Additionally, it has provided support for future research into this topic through an intersectional lens in order to highlight the complex experiences of urban regeneration which are shaped by overlapping social categories such as class, gender and race.
Being awarded The Jane Slowey Memorial Bursary was a fundamental part in producing a successful piece of independent research. The Bursary played a key role in my ability to conduct primary research as it supported my confidence in reaching out to locals in Tower Hamlets, which I found a daunting part of conducting my dissertation.