A year to remember: Looking back at 2020 in Tower Hamlets
- Credit: Mike Brooke
It’s been a year we will all remember for the virus which has changed our lives. But 2020 wasn’t all about Covid.
The annual Holocaust Memorial Day service had to be moved to Sandys Row Synagogue in Spitalfields after the ceiling of its usual venue - East London Central Synagogue - collapsed. Plaster came crashing down in the building in Nelson Street, Whitechapel.
Synagogue president Leon Silver said: “I was shocked when I arrived to find the aisle strewn with broken wood and plaster where cornices came crashing down. But thank goodness on one was inside the building when the ceiling fell down.”
The council vowed to do everything it could to stop 1,500 homes being built on the Westferry Printworks site on Millwall Docks waterfront. The controversial scheme was given the go-ahead by the government’s housing secretary Robert Jenrick, who overruled the council’s objections and gave permission for tower blocks up to 46 storeys. Tower Hamlets mayor John Biggs said the decision “ignores local democracy”.
Neighbours called for more action to tackle anti-social behaviour from clubbers using their cars to party after hours in the street. People living on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch were fed up with sleepless nights caused by revellers who parked in their streets, went off clubbing, and then returned to blare out music, shout, fight and do drugs from the vehicles, dubbed “car bars” by angry residents.
London’s first “recycled road” was laid in Bethnal Green. The new surface in Canrobert Street was made partly from old tyres that would otherwise have gone to landfill. Rubber crumb from around 100 old tyres was mixed into the asphalt to make the new surface.
The leader of the Conservative group on Tower Hamlets Council resigned from the party. Cllr Andrew Wood became an independent councillor but confirmed he would remain part of the Tory grouping to make sure there was a formal opposition on the council. He said he had lost confidence in the Conservative Party.
Parents and schools handed in a £12m “invoice” to 10 Downing Street calling on the prime minister to fill a gap in special educational needs funding. Their protest march from Parliament Square followed a four-year campaign spearheaded by Tower Hamlets Council and the National Education Union for government funding to catch up with rising costs.
Refuse collectors went on a week-long strike saying Veolia owed them holiday pay.
Plans to build a 163-bed hotel on a corner plot at the end of Follett Street, Poplar, were approved by the council. It was felt it would be the best use of an awkward site.
- 1 Bow flat fire caused by sunlight on glass bottle
- 2 Ranjith Kankanamalage death: Man charged with murder
- 3 Gallery: Hidden photos reveal London's East End in the 1960s
- 4 Bow man accused of carrying out fatal hammer attack appears at Old Bailey
- 5 Bow man charged with drugs supply and criminal property offences
- 6 Japanese udon noodles chain to mark Canary Wharf opening with free bowls
- 7 Covid patients numbers declining in east London hospitals
- 8 Fire brigade raises concerns over 51-storey Canary Wharf tower plans
- 9 Crossrail: Canary Wharf station ready as Elizabeth Line nears opening
- 10 East End's 'last' Victorian funeral parlour being restored - and opens as burger bar
And then the coronavirus crisis struck and the country went into lockdown. Immediately voluntary groups began providing help for those who could not work and the elderly who were having to self-isolate. The council urged residents not to panic buy goods after a van was stopped near the Blackwall Tunnel and found to be more than a ton overweight because the driver had stockpiled so much toilet roll.
Restaurants and bars that had to close because of the pandemic began giving out their leftover food for free to NHS workers who were spending all their hours at hospitals caring for the sick. Liam Tolan and David Burgess, who ran Fugitive Motel bar and kitchen in Bethnal Green, gave away food boxes of fresh fruit, vegetables and bread after posting a notice on social media. They took the rest to staff at the Royal London Hospital.
There was anger when Victoria Park was closed because of lockdown. People were allowed out of their homes once a day for exercise and residents living near the park argued it should remain open for those living in flats. The council said the decision to close the park was made because: “While many visitors to the park were behaving responsibly and exercising individually as recommended, a significant number of visitors insisted on gathering in groups, holding picnics, drinking, sunbathing and playing football and team sports.” It was reopened a few days later but with shorter opening hours.
Inspired by the efforts of Colonel Tom Moore in raising money for the NHS, 100-year-old Dabirul Islam Choudhury began walking 100 laps of his garden in Bow with the aim of raising £1,000. He hit the target within hours and in two weeks his JustGiving page had raised more than £60,000 for the Ramadan Family Commitment Covid-19 crisis initiative.
The “grandfather of Columbia Road flower market” George Gladwell died of coronavirus aged 91. He was the founder of Columbia Road’s market traders organisation and had traded there from 1949 until three months before he fell ill. Tributes flooded in.
Nine-year-old Georgie Wright, who lives on the Isle of Dogs, used lockdown to set up his own baking YouTube channel. Subscribers could watch him bake anything from apple crumble to Yorkshire pudding.
Mum-of-four Lynda Ouazar set up a foodbank in Whitechapel with motorbike riders delivering food parcels to those who had fallen through the safety net because of mistrust of authorities.
The statue of slave owner Robert Milligan was taken down from its plinth in West India Quay in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests. It was removed two days after campaigners tore down a statue of a slave trader in Bristol. A petition calling for the removal of the Milligan statue, launched by Cllr Ehtasham Haque, was signed by more than 4,000 people in less than two days.
Sivill House, a 20-storey block of flats in Columbia Road designed by a pioneer of modern British architecture, was given listed status. It was designed by Berthold Lubetkin, Russell Skinner and Douglas Carr Bailey.
Non-essential shops were allowed to reopen which meant the introduction of special measures like hand-sanitiser stations, one-way systems, and a limit to the number of shoppers in stores.
Fire ripped through the roof of Hadleigh House, Bethnal Green, forcing more than 100 people to move into temporary accommodation. Thirty flats were affected. Two women were rescued from the four floor via a ladder.
An 85-year-old woman died when a 60ft crane collapsed on to the roof of two terraced houses in Compton Close, Bromley-by-Bow. The crane also hit a new block of flats still being built. Four other people were injured. Neighbours with ladders helped a woman climb out of her bedroom window after she was trapped by the crane.
The lockdown gave Jeremy Huguet and Lindsay Morel-Huguet a chance to follow their dream and set up a bakery business on their narrowboat on the Regent’s Canal. The couple started Boulangerie Flottante selling bread and pastries to passers-by and launched an online delivery service.
Throwaway sanitiser, gloves and masks were adding to pollution in the Thames and being washed up along the foreshore.
Confusion reigned when the A-level results were published and thousands of students were given lower grades than their teachers had predicted. Following a public outcry the government did a U-turn and agreed that new grades would be released based on teachers’ assessments rather than a controversial algorithm devised by exam regulators.
Parts of Brick Lane were closed to traffic to allow the street’s famous curry restaurants to set up outdoor seating and dining areas. The scheme was designed to last for 10 weeks to help businesses after the lockdown and enable them to welcome more customers.
The Waterman’s Arms pub on the Isle of Dogs reopened with its original 1960s name after a £600,000 refit. The pub in Glenaffric Avenue was previously known as the Great Eastern but went back to its original name which refers to the heyday of the docks and Thames barge trade.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge visited the Beigel Bake in Brick Lane, found out how the pandemic had affected employees at the 24-hour bakery and had a go at making beigels. Prince William and Kate also visited the East London Mosque and London Muslim Centre in Whitechapel to speak to volunteers who cooked and delivered meals to vulnerable people during lockdown.
Air steward Henry Kehr ran a half marathon on a plane 36,000ft above ground to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support. Henry, 25, of the Isle of Dogs, ran 13 miles on an empty eight-hour cargo flight from Atlanta to Heathrow in memory of his mum Tracey who died in 2018 after being diagnosed with breast cancer.
Three start-up businesses were given rent-free premises for a year to help kickstart Poplar’s Aberfeldy shopping parade. Poplar Harca regeneration organisation chose Digi Barber – offering training while giving slots to freelance haircutters on rota; Aberfeldy Front Room – a social hub to stage neighbourhood events; and More Life Home – recycling “cared for” furniture, clothes and homeware.
The first flat pack homes which can be assembled and furnished in a week were built in Mile End to house the homeless. The two prototype modular homes were put up by the Pan-London Accommodation Collaborative Enterprise. The council was hoping that if they proved success, it could erect 16 on the site of some old garages in Landon Walk, Poplar.
The Ragged Museum in Mile End was added to Historic England’s heritage at risk register of buildings likely to be lost due to neglect and decay. The museum, in an old Victorian wharf, is in need of urgent repair to its leaky roof and dampness. Thousands of children visit every year to learn what education was like in Victorian times.
The Advertiser launched its Shop Local campaign to support our independent stores hit by lockdown and the pandemic. The aim was to tell the stories of the problems facing the small traders and encourage the community to help them by buying from them rather than the large chains or online.
Author and poet Shamim Azad was chosen to feature in the National Lottery’s Portraits of the People photo exhibition celebrating “remarkable individuals” who worked during the pandemic to enrish people’s lives. The retired teacher from Bow ran weekly online storytelling classes for children, working with spoken poetry organisation Apples and Snakes. She also advised Bangladeshi gardeners, running online workshops on the environment, and gave talks on women and the rise of domestic violence.
Stepney City Farm was given a £30,000 lifeline from Lloyd’s of London Foundation to help it survive during the pandemic. The farm was unable to furlough essential staff because they were needed to feed the animals and keep isolated people in the community supplied with affordable fresh produce.
The council agreed to hold a people’s vote next May on whether to keep the current system of an executive mayor of Tower Hamlets or replace him with a cabinet and council leader.
An emergency appeal was launched for money to help stock 31 food banks in the run-up to Christmas. Many food banks in the borough had reached crisis point. The council had already distributed 190 tonnes of food since the start of the pandemic. It set a target of raising £5,000 a month to help the food banks plan their support.
The controversial £800m redevelopment plan for Bishopsgate Goodsyard was approved by Mayor of London Sadiq Khan. The plan is for 500 homes and a large area of office and workspace on the edge of Shoreditch. There would also be gardens, terraces and walkways on top of restored railway arches.
An experimental barrier to reduce the impact of traffic noise was installed on the A12 dual-carriageway next to Bromley-by-Bow station. It is designed as a public artwork but made with absorbing materials to relieve noise stress on families on nearby housing estates.