Simon Cole – Tour Guide

From Sunderland, I came to London after university in Manchester. After living and working in places like San Francisco, Australia and Vanuatu I studied postgrad journalism here. I was set to move to East Berlin – and then I found Hackney! As an international tour guide, I’d noticed the significant radical history and exciting contemporary subcultures here. I started sharing it officially in 2012 as Hackney Tours. I cut my carbon footprint right back and found ever more wonder here at home.
I’ll give you a different angle, sometimes with performance. It’s about questioning everything: hidden histories, secret spots and unlikely connections; there’s so much to this incredible borough. Connecting you with it in a new way, so you see your everyday surroundings differently, that’s the buzz. As a personal trainer, with Hackney Council we promote community and mental health with physical health through group walks.
Gentrification is complex and nuanced. Drill down and it’s capitalism driving ‘constant growth’. Leaders sometimes use the omelette analogy: you can’t make one without breaking a few eggs. But if you’re one of those eggs, that can mean being totally uprooted from your existing life.
Precarity has implications for mental health and the community that takes so long to build up. Who is London actually for? Corporations and property investors?
The people who come on a wander are Hackney history-lovers but also explorers discovering new London ‘gold’: the intellectually curious; young Hackney kids learning history; universities studying urban issues. People bring meanings and memories too, so it evolves.
Apart from constant learning – joining the dots from the 1700s ‘radical’ philosophers of Newington Green to today’s Hackney Wick artists – the big thrill is connecting with people. I speak to all sorts of interesting and inspiring locals every day.
Abney Park cemetery is a favourite of mine: a nature reserve with a rich repository of endless stories. The markets are great spots to connect with the wide variety of people who make Hackney what it is today. Stoke Newington Farmers Market is a pioneering sustainability project challenging supermarket dominance, food waste and fossil fuel profligacy, while just down the road, hairdresser Vidal Sassoon fought the fascists at Ridley Road Market with the
43 Group.

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