Describe your area in three words: Artistic, fun and friendly. Street art here is celebrated and really adds to the artistic, inspiring atmosphere. I love that there is always something going on and so much for kids to do, and people here seem so friendly and always up for a chat.
Coolest coffee spot: Pavilion Bakery on Columbia Road has gorgeous coffee for
takeaway. Their own peanut butter is also amazing – I definitely recommend picking up a jar. They only have stools at the window though, so for lazy Sunday coffee (okay, with kids that’s a joke but we can wish right?) or a good catch-up it has to be Jonestown on Bethnal Green Road. Comfy sofas, a laid-back vibe and friendly staff (as well as lovely
coffee) make this a favourite.
Best family-friendly restaurant: The Gallery Café, part of the St Margaret’s House complex (which also has yoga classes, art and creativity groups, and a really good charity shop) has delicious vegan dishes. Laxeiro on Columbia Road serves amazing tapas, and for Italian Campania & Jones just off Columbia Road makes its pasta fresh. Paradise Row in the heart of Bethnal Green is a series of restaurants and bars that make use of the railway arches, with favourites including Sager and Wilde and The Japanese Canteen. As long as you avoid the after-work crowd they are totally do-able with kids. Frizzante at Hackney City Farm is probably the best for kids as you can also have a look around the farm or take part in an activity (see below), and their food is awesome.
Favourite park or green space: Weavers Fields has a great open space with playgrounds and also hosts the Boishakhi Mela and funfair. Haggerston Park has a hint of woodland, which is nice for a walk. The queen of all parks though has to be Victoria Park. There are two main play parks: the tamer one is really good with lots to play on but your little one may want to brave the bigger-kids’ one, which in summer has the water park, skateboard park and the heart-stopping, child-hoard-generating ‘slides of terror’ (and there seems to be a deep-rooted tradition of chucking sand down them to speed them up even more). For something different try the Nomadic Community Gardens near Brick Lane, a community space using disused railway land; a hodgepodge of street art, sculpture, veg patches and communal areas. It has a relaxed, backpacker vibe and you can grab coffee while settling down in one of the ramshackle (in a good way) seating areas – and little ones love to clamber about on the wooden boat.
Best local museum or gallery: It has to be the V&A Museum of Childhood. We’re so lucky to have such a fab museum and space on our doorstep, and it’s the regular haunt of every local family – especially on a rainy day.
Favourite under-5s class/activity: Hackney City Farm has drop-in pottery for kids – twice on Sundays and once in the week. They are really good fun, well run and a bargain at only a fiver per child. Plus you then get to have a meander round the farm or eat in their restaurant, Frizzante.
What makes your area great? You’re in the heart of the best of East London. Bethnal Green is always buzzing; Columbia Road is charming in the week and exciting on Sundays; Shoreditch, which despite naysayers saying it’s past it is still so vibrant and fun; Brick Lane, Hoxton, Hackney and the arty Hackney Wick are all within a short distance. I feel like I’m on holiday every weekend I get to explore. I love the fact that you have a fantastic, diverse community and shops, cool start-ups, amazing restaurants and bars, but also that the elements you would associate with the old East End (as an outsider!) are still visible and thriving without changing themselves into something gastro or cool. Pie and mash, greasy-spoon caffs and old-time boozers ahoy!
What’s the best thing about living in London?: You can be an eternal tourist. Ok, you lose the compulsion to walk slow or stand on the wrong side of the escalator, but there are constant experiences to be had and even the things you’ve seen before don’t lose their shine. A walk across any of the bridges on the Thames always fills me with amazement at the cityscape. I never tire of it.
And the worst?: That a family with both parents working can still become homeless here; where even if you have a fairly good job you’re often still struggling to make ends meet, and many families are living at risk anytime of being two months’ notice away from having their home taken away thanks to crazy rents, short notice periods on rental agreements and out-of-grasp home-ownership for many. It’s a nationwide issue but it’s magnified in London, with rents that would seem a joke elsewhere.
Photo credit: Becky Epton