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Edgeland – the lost landscape of Hackney marshes

Interview with Sally Mumby-Croft

Written by Satu Fox

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Edgeland from sallymc on Vimeo.

Artist Sally Mumby-Croft has created a film about the sad loss to the local community of the site being used for the 2012 Olympic development. Despite musch protest, an area once available to everyone in the area has been fenced off and is now patrolled by security guards. The film shows the quietness and openness of the landscape, with voiceovers provided by local people, whose articulate commentary brings to life how important the space has been to residents, and how important it is that people have access to spaces that are free of branding and agensa, spaces that they can interpret themselves.

Could you tell me a little about the people who provide the voiceovers? How did you meet them?

The people in the film inhabit the space in question, Charlie Charman participated in Manor Garden Allotments (now no more), Iain Sinclair is a long time Hackney resident and I use the term in slight hesitation to avoid pigeon holing anyone a psycho-geographer, earlier this year Sinclair wrote a less than glowing review of the Olympics in the London Book Review, which resulted in his well documented ban from Hackney Libraries by the mayor Jules Pipe.

Ella and Amy are local residents of East London who stumbled upon the allotments one day whilst cycling through the relative untamed wilderness of the Hackney canal system. Johnnie Walker is the manager of the football at Hackney Marshes. Xavier [Zapata] and I met Charlie through the manor garden website, Iain Sinclair through Xavier’s Participation at various local demos.

Why are the issues discussed in your film so important?

The issues are so important because it is a matter of freedom in public space. Whilst this space look unused it has long been home to a variety of activities from impromptu art galleries to refrigerator mountains, the mass football related events on a Sunday morning (fulfilling all the Olympic criteria of youth participating in multi-cultural activities). It is a space where you had freedom to roam without being told how to act. Now a blue barbed fence dominates the landscape. Local residents lost open green spaces and their children have no where to play – we aim to tackle obesity and the government take away their nearest green spaces.

The marshes and the allotments were given to the people of east London in perpetuity as a gift to apologise for the impact of the second world war on that area of London – the marshes developed out of the blitz rubble and the allotments provided food for families for at least 40 years. The land was obtained for the Olympics through compulsive purchase orders.

The project was also about listening to voices who are often marginalised or disregarded in typical media coverage or are not included at all in decision processes that affect everyday quality of life

What are the drawbacks of using this site for the 2012 Olympics? What will be lost?

What will be lost is a place to express yourself unrestrained, as a number of the interviewees mention in the film. The drawbacks are the loss of green spaces, the leaking of toxic materials into the water-system and thriving communities.

Why did you decide not to show people on camera and instead focus on the landscape?

I decided to focus solely on the landscape because I wanted to explore and express how we romanticise landscape, I wanted to turn the Olympic reports on their heads by showing that this is a place that is not unused, but a place free from gentrification requirements, to be clearer regeneration does not need to mean gentrification or the dispersal of local inhabitants.

Who or what are you influenced by? Did any specific influences contribute to this film?

I was influenced by the navigations of Iain Sinclair around a cityscape, his reading of graffiti and marks left by those who have been before that on first glance what looks abandoned can provide valuable insights to the world around us.

Doris Lessing, especially The Grass is Singing for her incredible use of language and skill at embedding the landscape as if it heaves with the political tension that soaks the air of the novel’s settings. 

Steve McQueen’s Hunger and Jeremy Deller for their revisiting of past historical events resulting in fresh attention on how events potentially unfold.

Particularly good websites for my project was the site GamesMonitor, a fantastic site that provides multiple articles on the state of the Olympics across the world.


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One Response to “Edgeland – the lost landscape of Hackney marshes”

  1. benz says:

    Dear Sally

    Do you perhaps have a photo of the fridge mountain. I am writing an article and need a photo.



    Dr Benz Kotzen, School of Architecture and Construction, The University of Greenwich

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