My London: Shepherd’s Bush

Published September 2016

Someone once told me that London is a series of villages merged into one. If this is true then Shepherds Bush Green is the place where the fringes of vastly different villages meet. The result is a hive of activity and a terrific mixture of culture, class, age and life.

To elaborate, within about a mile’s walk from the Green you can be stood either outside the door to the Beckham’s house or the door to Wormwood scrubs prison, be shopping in Westfield or stood under the Westway in a traveller community, cheering on QPR at Loftus road (if a supporter?) or cheering your favourite band from level 1 of the Empire.

The Green is surrounded by busy roads that prevent the immediate environs becoming overly pleasant or too gentrified. It’s decidedly not cool, another admirable quality worth cherishing, as this hopefully protects it from the invasion of beards and bicycle repair shops which double as organic coffee emporiums, whilst preventing too many ‘pop-ups’ from popping up. That said, there are some vestiges of gentrification that one struggle to protest at, in particular the bars now selling craft ale. The kids don’t know how lucky they are…

Back to the Bush, this is the place where different peoples of different fortunes rub shoulders, certainly not through conscious choice but seemingly without friction. WG+P are located on Bulwer Street, a road parallel to and immediately north of Shepherd’s Bush Green. Bulwer Street is no exception, our immediate neighbours are the West London School of Dance where parents of means send their talented offspring to excel but we are also hosts to inebriated rouges, bored youths and students from the local college smoking real cigarettes between lectures. Why this mix I couldn’t say but Bulwer street is one of those roads that is just around the corner from a significant centre or node as Kevin Lynch identified and is vastly different in character compared to its surroundings; a pocket of relatively handsome Victorian terraces and no-through roads of some tranquillity. This contrast offers respite from the frenzy that is Shepherds Bush Green. Yes Bulwer Street is one of those London roads, of which there are many, where even if you were map-less you would probably still find it in order to have a break from the melee.

By chance I’m enjoying a book about human evolution. It transpires that us Homo sapiens might have out evolved our Neanderthal cousins by something as minor as the more favourable positioning of our Larynx which afforded us greater variation in the sounds we could produce, leading to more complex forms of communication. This enhanced our burgeoning propensity to form social groups of ever increasing size with ever closer cooperation and integration. Shepherds Bush Green may not be the most salubrious of urban spaces, I’d forgive you for being relieved to get out of there to somewhere more genteel, however the sheer number and dynamic mix of people here gives me grounds to argue that it might just be the exemplar of an evolutionary destiny mapped out hundreds of generations ago. Perhaps this could be said of any great cosmopolitan city hub and I don’t mean to suggest The Bush is unique, but it’s our very own centre of west London uniqueness and one worth applauding, for how it exists right now and not what potential could be ‘unlocked’. Force me to label the people of this area and I would struggle, there doesn’t appear to be one overriding culture, ethnicity or class. So given the above I think ‘Bush People’ hits the right Darwinian notes, and feels right for the Shep’ Bush crowd. I count myself one of them, and proud.

We’ve all got to deal with the post-referendum world where nothing and everything has changed. I take comfort in my Shepherds Bush surroundings in two ways, one physical the other cultural. Physically, it is the distinct sense that the centre of Shepherds Bush is, and will always be the Green, irrespective of the vast and overbearingly aspirational redevelopments taking place on its doorstep. Formally established in 1871, this patch of grass and trees still holds a civic cachet far in excess of anything else in the vicinity. The Green’s 140 year old Plane trees look better than ever; contrast this to the patchy green walls of Westfield that are forever being tended to and the already tired cladding, all of about 8 years old. The Green stands resolute, a constant and familiar feature in changing times.

Culturally Shepherds Bush is reassuring in that, in a small way, it joins the dots of civilisation; we are destined to congregate in numbers, which inevitably draws very different people together. Politics come and go but Shepherds Bush feels like it is underpinned by something more fundamental, by an ancient urge for us to view our differences as one of the reasons to come together, not separate. It’s never going to be perfect but for now, at least, take heart that us Bush People are getting on.

Words by James Potter


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