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London’s East Enders: Olympic Outsiders (Photos)

London’s gritty East End, home to some of Britain’s poorest people, is playing host to a massive influx of gawkers.

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Photographs by Charles Ommanney
Interviews by Kalita al Swaidi

Since the 1800s, London’s gritty East End has been home to some of the city’s most strapped residents: immigrants, artists, and the poor. Notorious for its overcrowding and high incidence of crime, the neighborhood has been thrust into the spotlight this year as the location of the 2012 Olympic Games. (Click here for an interactive map that details the huge burst of construction in the area over the last several years.)

Will the massive crowds and influx of cash help the East End, or is it merely sacrificing its space—and sanity—for an event that will leave no lasting benefit? Kalita al Swaidi and photographer Charles Ommanney, on assignment for Newsweek and The Daily Beast, traveled to the area to talk to residents.

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Danny Steadman, 17
Newham, East London


"Stratford was the roughest area in Newham—not even I wanted to go there. I couldn't be bothered with the trouble, you know what I mean? Now it looks so peaceful and different. All them bright lights. Now it's the best environment to be around. It's brought a lot of people over to experience London, and the Westfield shopping center, that's top. You know how many pretty young ladies now go there?"

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Tony Bowers, 54
Canning Town, East London
Scrap-metal dealer


"I don't think the local people have been considered. If it was going to serve the locals we would be bang-up for it in every way."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Junior Saba, 17
Lewisham, East London
Student

"It's a great experience for London having foreign athletes coming to Stratford for the first time."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Nancy Bowers, 22
Canning Town, East London
Office manager


"We are going to be so quiet. We have only had five people in this morning, and it took me two and a half hours to get to work where it usually takes 20 minutes. I am very excited about seeing the Olympics on TV as I remember at school designing my own Olympic Village for London."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Martin Bowers, 51
Canning Town, East London
Fourth generation scrap-metal dealer and owner of the Peacock boxing gym


"The Olympics is a great advert for our country and for what we stand for. There has been a lot of money spent on sport, and I think this will be reflected in the medals won. No doubt this will be the best Games we have ever seen."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Andre Ollie, 60
Barking, East London
Head coach of amateur boxing at the Peacock Gym


"I have always said that after the Olympics all the problems will be forgotten and it will remembered as the best and [most] well-run Olympics ever and Mayor Boris Johnson won't be able to keep his mouth shut."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Dembo Jobe, 36
Bethnal Green, East London
Personal trainer and dietician

"The Olympics is good for the country, but here in the East End no one has really gained from it. That's not so great. It's all corporate, isn't it really?"

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Billy Bowers, 28
Canning Town, East London
Stockbroker

"I am looking forward to it. However, if you didn't see the branding everywhere, you wouldn't know it was on our doorstep. I would probably be looking forward to it more if it was somewhere else."

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

Paul Burrows, 45
Canning Town, East London
Scrap-metal dealer


"It's like a police lockdown. If I want someone to come to my house I have to book them in 24 hours before. Boot camp for the Old Bill, I say. We all want to be positive, but it's hard when you keep getting kicked in the teeth."

("Old Bill" is British slang for police.)

 

Charles Ommanney for Newsweek

George Landerkin, 79
Isle of Dogs, East London

"The Olympics has caused so much trouble, and so much sadness. If I could say one thing to Boris Johnson I would say, ' Bollocks'. London shouldn't have had it at all."