Gentrification can sometimes be a very good thing

For me, cereal is the breakfast you have when you’ve forgotten to buy any bread. The mere idea of going to a cereal café and forking out three or four quid for a bowl of dried corn bits is well, loopy and goes totally against the wholegrain. But each to his or her own I say.

If Golden Grahams or Frosted Cheerios are your breakfast bag, who am I to judge? So it was with red-faced apoplexy that I read in the newspapers that a mob of 200, many of them masked, recently attacked the Cereal Killer Café in Shoreditch.

The café, owned by two brothers from Belfast, was vandalised, customers and staff were terrorised and a police officer injured. And with grim inevitability, it later transpired that an academic from the LSE was amongst the protestors, though the papers carefully noted that she played no part in any of the violence.

It was all organised by Class War apparently, who took to Facebook to justify their actions. It was to “defend communities” being ripped apart by oligarchs, sheiks, property developers, oil money and local authority greed they explained, though they didn’t put it quite as politely as that.

One of the protestors further explained that the purpose of the “punk carnival” had been to open debate on “gentrification” and to combat “social cleansing”. So don’t go thinking that we are dealing here with a morally conceited mob punching down at a small business while enjoying that special frisson which has thrilled bullies down the ages. And don’t make the mistake either of believing we are talking about half-wits who march against wars on Monday only to unleash violent brutality against aspirational cafés on Tuesday.

No. What we clearly have here is a heroic vanguard tackling “social cleansing” one Coco Pop at a time.

But, personally, I won’t be joining them anytime soon, for it seems to me that social cleansing is a term thrown around in inverse proportion to the actual evidence for it. I suppose the whole of Britain’s been socially cleansed since the days boys went up chimneys.

As for gentrification, well at the risk of enraging Class War, I believe it can sometimes be a very good thing. It’s sad that Sunday’s aspiring gang of Che Guevaras like their proletariat downtrodden, denied opportunity and kept in their place for ever.

The other day myself and a colleague came across an astounding new invention called YouTube on which we watched a film from the early 1960s about the creation of the Venture Youth Centre. You can find it simply by searching ‘This is our playground.’

It’s a very interesting film but what are most memorable are the rubbish strewn streets, bomb sites and slums of North Kensington.

The arrival of hippies and bohemians later in the sixties, the conversion of former boarding houses into proper flats and houses; the opening of shops and boutiques selling loons and Afghan coats, the massive investment by those local authorities so despised by Class War, well all that was gentrification too, and it made a real difference.

North Ken still has its own flavour and character. But today it is a far, far better place. And I suspect that, over the long-term, cereal cafés, beards and internet start-ups won’t do Shoreditch much harm either.

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