Belonging and anxiety

In 2018 we worked intensively in different parts of London – in Tottenham, Bermondsey, Acton and Walworth – exploring how Londoners feel about their everyday experiences in the neighbourhoods they call home and how they have been affected by changes in the built environment.

In these very different parts of London residents have told us about their fears that their neighbourhoods may not be “for us” in the future. Many who describe feeling at home in their neighbourhoods today - whether they can track their local roots back for generations or are have moved in more recently - tell us about how they are questioning whether they will belong in coming years.

All over the city we are digesting the impact of new housing developments and regeneration programmes. These signal change but too often offer limited housing options for Londoners, especially those on lower incomes. We are fast to read the symbolic importance of new homes or shops, and quick to decide what these say about change and who is intended beneficiary.

As well as new housing, London’s neighbourhoods are experiencing complex pressures because of wider market forces, and the impact of government policy. Rents and and house prices have risen sharply, and some are moving because they cannot afford to stay. Changes to benefit regimes, immigration policy, and the gradual erosion of services and supports as a result of public sector austerity all compound the picture, putting pressure on daily life and increasing insecurity.

Our work has shows us that it is often the combination of these different factors rather than any one single change that colours perceptions.

Fear of displacement and change can be pernicious and damanging to wellbeing and quality of life, regardless of whether your home is in immediate threat or not. This seems to be a similar process to the way that fear of crime can affect people independently from their actual experience of crime.

This is a city-wide and policy issue, as well as a challenge for neighbourhoods and agencies. Some of the solutions are local but many sit at the London-wide and national level.

We all deserve to feel that we belong in the places we call home, and confident of our place in its future. As well as understanding what is happening in our neighbourhoods we are also trying to understand what can be done to support our sense of belonging and security, how we can all feel at home in the places we live.