You may know Newham mostly for hosting the Olympics back in 2012, but the borough is home to one of the most diverse in the UK – with the second-largest Bangladeshi and fourth-largest Black African populations. However, gentrification and regeneration have led to major inequality, and Newham is now ranked as London’s second poorest borough. Photographer Caitlin Chescoe is looking to highlight the community in Newham by documenting Wanstead Flats – the southernmost part of Epping Forest – and what the green space means to those in its proximity. Here, we discuss the project with Chescoe, why community is so important in the big city, and much more…
Why is Wanstead Flats so special to you? What is your personal connection with the area?
I’ve lived in Newham for about seven years now, and during the lockdown, I spent a lot of time on the Wanstead Flats. It’s a place where I meet friends, cycle, go for long walks to clear my head and do group exercise, so I wanted to meet other people in my neighbourhood and see how they used the space.
Which of the included images feels most important to you, and for what reasons?
The image of Kenneatha and Keziah in their matching pink tracksuits at the fair. Kenneatha told me that when she was younger and lived in Manor Park, she used to attend the same fair on the Flats year after year. Keziah had asked if they could both dress in matching outfits that day and spend some Mother and Daughter time together, so had travelled down from Ilford, where they now live. I spoke to many people who all mentioned that the fair used to be one of the highlights of the summer when they were growing up. However, it is now a fraction of the size with quite a low attendance. This project is about documenting the area as it is now and the people who use it, and this touched on the concept of time and change. This image also won Portrait of Britain in 2022, which was shown as part of a nationwide exhibition across the UK as well as being published by Hoxton Mini Press. It’s fantastic to see this work receive such a great platform.
What do you want people to know about your work?
I want to make meaningful work on topics that I feel strongly about, such as community, the everyday, and the idea of home in the wider context of society.
What do you want people to know about Wanstead Flats and the project as a Whole?
Wanstead Flats is located at the southernmost part of Epping Forest and is part of Newham in East London. Since the 2012 Olympics, it has undergone major gentrification and re-generation, which has caused inequality across the borough. My project on The Wanstead Flats is a document of now and how the space is used. Newham isn’t the only borough that is facing these changes. It’s the story of London. I think it is important to ask questions and encourage a dialogue to address these issues and how we might move forward together. I am also hoping to create a zine when the project is finished, which will make it more accessible to residents and I would like to see if this could become part of a wider exhibition alongside other artists from the local area.
Why is community important to you? And to the subjects in your images?
I think that it is becoming more commonplace in many areas across the UK that we sometimes lack community, especially in London, because people are moving around so much due to the housing crisis that we don’t reach out to our neighbours or make connections with others. I grew up on the small island of Guernsey, where community is very present in everyday life amongst friends and neighbours and think there are many benefits that this brings to individuals and to society as a whole. What is clear to me and the subjects in this series is just how unpredictable the future is for everyone in the borough. There’s so much consistent change that is completely out of our control that spaces such as Wanstead Flats become a place for families and friends to come together within the calmness of nature, to escape from the day-to-day and do things in the local community together. I know that it has been important for me, and I can see how it is beneficial to others, too.