The last whites of the East End: BBC documentary reveals how cockneys are becoming an endangered species in London borough of Newham after 70,000 immigrants moved in
- BBC’s Last Whites of the East End looks at life in Newham, east London
- The area has had an influx of 70,000 immigrants in the past 15 years
- White British families say ‘Cockney’ traditions are now dying out
- ‘East Enders’ say community spirit has gone forever and area is a ‘slum’
- Newham is UK’s most culturally diverse borough according to 2011 census
Cockneys are becoming an endangered species in a London borough after 70,000 immigrants have moved in over the past 15 years, a BBC documentary has revealed.
The white population of Newham is leaving in droves, according to the Last Whites of the East End, which claims 73 per cent of the local population is now made up of ethnic minorities and Black British.
It was previously almost all white working class, with the majority dockworkers, but has now become the most multicultural place in the UK, with 147 languages spoken across the borough.
Although many of the area’s new residents consider themselves ‘proper East Enders’, some say the differences in culture and religion are creating divides, with ethnic groups sticking together.
Newham has 66 primary schools and two decades ago more than half the pupils were white British.
But now one school – Drew Primary – has just three white British children per class, with 43 languages spoken throughout its halls.
Peter Bell has been secretary at East Ham Working Men’s Club for more than 25 years and said it was one of the last strongholds of traditional East End culture in the area.
The club hosts everything from tea dances to boxing club matches and is trying to keep community spirit together.
Mr Bell, 66, told MailOnline: ‘I think we are vital to the area. We try to keep as busy as we can and keep our traditions going.
‘If we closed then I can’t help but think where would some of these people go? Where would the old ladies who come here every week go? What would they have to look forward to?
‘We live in one of the poorest boroughs in the country, and when you walk out of this club, what you see is essentially a slum.’
Mr Bell, who used to work in newspapers, added the different cultures in the area only caused divisions because people don’t interact with each other.
He said: ‘I mean no disrespect to the Muslim community, but I don’t think they want to be part of the traditions here.
‘I hear words like multiculturalism and community and I think it’s nonsense. We are in an area that has massive unemployment and that is about to become overcrowded and you feel ostracised.
‘People feel like they are being forced out. I moved to Hornchurch 12 years ago and I don’t regret it one bit.’
The club is just a stone’s throw away from West Ham United’s now former ground Upton Park, and could take in as much as £13,000 on match days.
But the ground is being turned into housing with the Hammers moving to the Olympic Stadium in Stratford, and Mr Bell said the team’s departure will be ‘awful’ for the area.
He said: ‘Selling Upton Park for housing is just going to cause overcrowding. Where are all these children going to go to school? Medically, where are all these people going to go to the doctors’?
‘I would just love it if the Prime Minister or some of our MPs would come out of Upton Park station and then live in Green Street for two weeks. That would change their minds.’
Speaking on the programme, he added: ‘People who haven’t been for many years come out of Upton Park station and say “I can’t believe what’s happened here; it could be Baghdad.”‘
Eileen Kerslake, 88, said there would never be a true community in the area again
Speaking to MailOnline, Mrs Kerslake said: ‘East Enders are very friendly people and in the old days we used to have lots of activities going on. We had street parties all the time. But there’s nothing like that anymore.
‘I have nice neighbours who I speak to. But 90 per cent of the people who have moved here don’t speak to anyone, not even to each other.
‘It all started about 10 years ago, but it’s worse now. It seems like there’s been even more quick changes in the past year and everything is different.
‘You have schools with 500 pupils but you don’t see any white children and that’s one of the reasons people move.
‘This is a Docklands area so we have always been used to people coming in, but no one stays long enough now to become friends and neighbours.’
Mrs Kerslake has lived in the area all her life, and was married to late husband Albert for 68 years.
She has run a dance and social club in the area for 20 years, which still has around 40 members at weekly meetings.
The pensioner has no children of her own but has seen her niece and nephew leave the area to move to Kent.
She added: ‘I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t follow them out because where would I go? Where would I know anyone?
‘I’ve lived here all my life and I still know quite a few people. I couldn’t live in the country, I have everything I need on my doorstep.
‘But there never will be community again here.’
Some families are moving away, including Leanne Oakham who lives on the same street in Newham as her mother Debbie and sister Amy.
Leanne, who is a sixth-generation cockney, told the BBC1 show, which airs on Tuesday, May 24 at 10.45pm: ‘It’s not like the old East End where everyone knew everyone and we all left our doors open. It’s just scary now.
‘Years ago people would have a fight with their fists and that would be it. Not anymore. Now people will bring in knives.’
She is moving to Essex and her sister believes the move will eventually see the whole family leave Newham.
Amy said: ‘If I move then my mum will follow, and if my mum moves my nan will follow.That will be another local family up and gone to Essex.’
Darren Loveday, 29, has also moved out of Newham but comes back frequently as a member of a local boxing club.
He told the cameras about his days at college when he would be taunted by students for being white.
Mr Loveday said: ‘I remember hearing, ‘White Boy! Drop your phone and walk off’ shouted by three boys.
‘No disrespect, but I was probably the only white kid in the college.’
There are some multi-generation immigrants who feel like they are East Enders, like Usman Hussain, whose family moved to East London from Bangladesh in the 1930s.
Mr Hussain is a fifth-generation Londoner who said he was pleased to see more Muslims in the area but, at the same time, misses the white friends he knew when he was young.
Speaking on the documentary, he said: ‘I do often think if my childhood friends were around right now they would say, “He’s more British than us. He’s more proud of being an East Ender than us.”‘
Tony Cunningham is the son of a Jamaican immigrant father and a Londoner mother whose family has been in Newham for 150 years.
He told the programme he was racially abused as a youngster but considers himself a cockney.
Mr Cunningham, a bus driver, added he now feels like an outsider in the community.
He said: ‘We were called ‘n***** when we were growing up. To be honest I had to educate my nan, she had a cat called that.
‘I feel alone. Most of the Muslims stick together, their children stick together. If you are an outsider, they don’t want no part of you whatsoever.’
Mr Cunningham, who is married to Romanian immigrant Vally, is looking to move to Hornchurch ‘for a better life’ and because he fears his daughter Charlotte will be a minority at schools in Newham.
He also bemoaned the disappearance of Christian values in the area.
Mr Cunningham told the cameras: ‘I’ve been to church before and I’d say half the people there are eastern Europeans.
‘I think they’ll bring something very good to the area but not quick enough for Charlotte. These schools around here will make her lose her identity.
‘There are no more nativity plays, no more Christmas cards, nothing like that is celebrated any more, it’s rubbed out.
‘I don’t care if Charlotte goes to a school where there’s a mix of races and everything is on an even keel, but that’s not the case around here.’
But Emma Peltier, headteacher at Drew Primary, has defended its multicultural make-up and said it promotes a happy society in Newham.
According to The Sun, she said: ‘ We no longer live in a mono-cultural society, we have 43 languages spoken and at least once a week we have a child arrive who has no English. Really quickly children pick up the language.
‘Schools and children can be a fantastic way of people assimilating into society because children don’t see colour and children don’t see religion.’
- Last Whites of the East End appears on BBC1 on Tuesday, May 24, at 10.45pm
NEWHAM AT A GLANCE
The London borough of Newham was officially formed in 1965 after the merger of East Ham and West Ham under the new Greater London region.
Traditionally it had a strong white working class population thanks to the Royal Group of Docks that were built between 1855 and 1921.
Named after Queen Victoria, Prince Albert and King George V, the docks became a core part of the local economy, even when they were damaged by German bombing raids during the Second World War.
But their decline started in the 1960s due to the increased use of container ships, and they eventually closing to commercial traffic only in 1981, causing widespread unemployment.
Many homes were destroyed in the area during the Blitz, leading to a huge development of tower blocks and an influx of immigrant workers to build them.
Now it is the most ethnically diverse borough in the UK, with white British making up just 16 per cent of the population in the 2011 census, dropping from 33.8 per cent 10 years earlier.
The 37.5 per cent drop was the largest of any local authority in England and Wales between the two censuses.
Newham was one of the six host boroughs for the 2012 London Olympic Games and was also home to West Ham United’s Upton Park until the club left for Stratford’s Olympic Stadium.