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All photos by the author
Life

How Hackney Is Dealing with the Pandemic, in Photos

Photographer Grey Hutton spent 2020 photographing the borough's families, community volunteers and students as they lived through COVID-19.
April 16, 2021, 10:51am

The London borough of Hackney, my home, is one of the most deprived of 326 local authorities in the UK. Early in the pandemic, it had one of the highest COVID-19 mortality rates in the country, with the virus also exacerbating pre-existing problems, like food and digital poverty, cramped housing and homelessness.

When lockdown first hit, I began to document what was happening on my doorstep. Informal networks of support were springing up everywhere to meet the growing demand for emergency services across the borough.
For lots of the people I met, these voluntary organisations have become lifelines.

Though global, for most, the pandemic has been a distinctly local experience, and it is against the backdrop of living rooms, kitchens, church halls and basements that these networks hold together a community in times of crisis.

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Shlomo and Malky Davidovits feed their youngest child, Gitty, while the rest of the family get ready for dinner, on the 14th of May, 2020. The Davidovits are a Haredi Jewish family of eight living in Stamford Hill, London. Shlomo works in a Beth Din and Malky is a part-time teacher and volunteer at the Interlink Foundation, but both have been home much more during the pandemic, relishing the time spent with their children

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Sami Ayad on his first day volunteering with the Children With Voices community food hub, on the 6th of April, 2020. Born in Sudan but raised in Brazil, Sami came to the UK for his PhD and had just moved into an apartment overlooking the food hub on the Wilton Estate in Hackney. He saw what was happening below and came down to lend a hand.

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Shukri Adan and her brother Mahad prepare meals in Shukri’s kitchen with the help of two friends from the Somali community, on the 28th of June, 2020. Every Sunday they prepare almost 100 meals and deliver them to families on some of Hackney’s estates.

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Ava sits quietly on the sofa in the living room at home, on the 20th of October, 2020. After school, she often doesn’t leave her room all evening, and since lockdown she hasn’t felt comfortable leaving the house at all. She is currently seeing a councillor at school. Children from lower-income families are two-and-a-half times more likely to suffer from mental health issues, and during the pandemic anxiety, sleep problems, eating disorders and self-harm have risen sharply in under-18s.

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Fadumo and her son Mubarak below their apartment on the Pembury Estate, on the 15th of July, 2020. All six of Fadumo’s children have had to be homeschooled due to restrictions during the pandemic. Fadumo’s reading and writing in English is limited, and with no experience of using a computer it is hard to oversee her children’s progress. She attends online classes to improve her English, organised by Shukri Adan from the volunteer organisation Connecting All Communities in Hackney.

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On the eve of the second government lockdown, a socially distanced congregation take part in one of their last prayers before the re-closure of Haggerston’s Suleymaniye Mosque for public worship, on the 4th of November, 2020.

Even with closed doors, the mosque has continued to serve its community. For the month of Ramadan, Suleymaniye Aid, the mosque’s humanitarian organisation, teamed up with Haggerston Mutual Aid to deliver thousands of meals to families needing support across the borough. Tape markings on the carpet signify acceptable prayer distancing.

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Sahra Adan in Banister House Community Hall, Hackney, on the 25th of August, 2020. Fifteen years ago, Sahra and her family fled Somalia during the civil war and moved to Hackney, London, where they still live today. The adjustment was easy for the children, who were young and in school, but Sahra struggled with the language, and to this day often needs her family’s help with English.

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It has been widely reported that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic communities have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, and within Sahra’s wider social group she knows of over 15 people who have died from the virus in the UK, including a 13-year-old boy.

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On the 2nd of April, 2020, the Tottenham Addas Synagogue in Stamford Hill lies empty after all synagogues were ordered to close. Normally this room would be filled at all hours of the day with men in prayer and study, but due to lockdown restrictions prayer now has to take place at home.

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Ali’s Cafe-Restaurant on Dunsmure Road in Stamford Hill is just one of the many local businesses that had to close during lockdown. Taken on the 14th of April, 2020.

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Betzalel Davidovits shows off the new trick he’s learnt on the trampoline during lockdown, on the 4th of May, 2020. The Davidovits are fortunate to have this outdoor space at home; another Haredi Jewish family I met in Stamford Hill has six children sharing one-and-a-half bedrooms.

Ever rising house prices and large multigenerational families means that many in Hackney’s strictly Orthodox community live in cramped conditions. This enabled the virus to spread rapidly through the community, making many households completely reliant upon voluntary support groups.

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A team of Hatzola volunteers in full PPE clean ambulances, dispose of dirty linen and restock anything that’s been used that day, on the 12th of May, 2020. Hatzola is a 24/7 emergency medical response organisation serving the Jewish community. Started in New York in the 1960s, it is the largest voluntary ambulance organisation in the world. The Stamford Hill branch has almost 50 volunteers, and on a normal day might field 20 calls. At the peak of the crisis it was receiving 80 calls a day.

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Agnes in the kitchen of the Ridley Road Social Club, Hackney, on the 6th of April, 2020. The venue had only been open five months when the pandemic hit, and decimated business. Now they’re running a subsistence kitchen providing healthy meals for a small cost, and they’ve opened up their kitchen for a local homeless charity to prepare meals in.

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Muhammad Jalaluddin sits with two of his sons on the sofa in their home, on the 24th of August, 2020. He works as a chef in Oxford six days a week and comes home to spend one night a week with his family. While he’s away, his family receives food delivered to their door from Shukri Adan. His eldest son, far left, was unable to sit his A-level exams for university due to the pandemic and had his grades moderated down by the algorithm to AAB, meaning he lost his place at Cambridge University. His grade was eventually changed back to AAA, but by that time his place at Cambridge was gone. He will now be studying Economics at London School of Economics.

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Jah-Shantaye in St Thomas’s Square, near her family’s flat on the Frampton Park Estate in Hackney, on the 21st of September, 2020. She’s 15 years old now, and since she was five has been involved with local charity Children With Voices, more recently teaching younger children about nutrition and distributing food to vulnerable families across the borough. In 2016 she was awarded a Jack Petchey Achievement Award for her work in the community.

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Members of Fame Star Youth discuss an upcoming performance during an after-school session in Woodberry Down Community Centre, on the 12th of November, 2020. The area has a high density of low-income families and prevalent gang grooming and violence. This after-school activity encourages children to embrace creativity while learning valuable skills in Media and Arts from its founder, Euphemia Chukwu.

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Ziggy Noonan, Carletta Gorden and Michelle Dornelly, volunteers from Children With Voices, sing along to Whitney Houston as they pack bags with food and essentials at the Community Food Hub in the Wilton Estate Community Centre, on the 6th of April, 2020.

Michelle Dornelly started Children With Voices 25 years ago, but since lockdown the demand for her food hub has grown exponentially. She distributes food donated to her organisation to some of the most underserved estates in Hackney, a lifeline to many low-income families or vulnerable residents who are shielding.

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Overlooking Springfield Park, families gather on their balconies for prayer and to watch the sunset, on the 23rd of April, 2020. Halakha (Jewish law) stipulates that prayer must take place with at least ten people, but with synagogues closed, some neighbours have taken to praying alongside each other outside their homes and at a safe distance.

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Sam Friedman in his office in Stamford Hill, on the 2nd of April, 2020. Sam organised an awareness campaign by bringing together graphic designers from the Jewish community to create posters warning people of the impending emergency.

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“Many people in our community are isolated the whole year round, cut off from the internet, social media, television,” he explained. “So once the news came out that there was a pandemic, the majority of people did not grasp the situation, the emergency of it, and they didn’t understand the social distancing guidelines.”

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A memorial to Oluwamayowa “Samson” Adeyemi at the Wilton Estate, where the Community Food Hub operates, on the 6th of July, 2020. Oluwamayowa was shot dead on the 5th of June, 2020 on the Nightingale Estate in Hackney. He was 21 years old.

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On Christmas Eve of 2020, a woman shows off her new nails as she collects food and essentials from the Community Food Hub on the De Beauvoir Estate.

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Michelle Dornelly tries to make some space in her living room, which has been overcrowded with donations for the last eight years, on the 21st of September, 2020. Like so many community leaders in Hackney, her voluntary work has taken over her life as demand for her food hubs grows every week. She’s launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for a permanent space after growing frustrated with the level of support from Hackney Council.

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Three people queue and one volunteer waits for food to deliver outside one of the new Community Food Hub locations on the De Beauvoir Estate in Hackney, on the 6th of August, 2020. The Community Food Hub was evicted from the Wilton Estate Community Centre and now has four locations distributing donated food.

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Queues are now often around the block at the community food hub on the De Beauvoir Estate in Hackney, taken on the 12th of November 2020. As the year came to a close, the need in Hackney shot up. Borough-wide road closures meant to encourage drivers to use alternative methods of transport had the knock-on effect of making bulk deliveries by car much more complicated.

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On a Thursday evening in Stamford Hill, before the clap for carers chorus began, a rainbow stretched across the sky. 30th of April, 2020.

This work was supported by the National Geographic Society’s Emergency Fund for Journalists.

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