Drug drops, porch pees and a ticket lottery: The rise of the London party park
An east London council is doubling down on park festivals — here’s what the neighbours think
Morning — there’s nothing like a cold January to get one longing for summer in London. Tower Hamlets council can’t wait either — the borough is pushing forward plans to expand the major events that take place at Victoria Park, the current home of the music festival All Points East. Some east London locals are dreading it, but from the Spy’s trip doorknocking, not everyone on the ground is against the expansion. The best and worst bits of life by a major London party park are after your Sunday round-up below.
Plus: a free speech row at a London station, a 100-day election milestone, and a Piccadilly Circus thirst trap.
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What we’ve spied
🎹 In a pretty bizarre sequence of events, a piano donated to St Pancras station by Sir Elton John became ‘a symbol of Chinese Communist Party resistance’ this week — at least in the view of some. The drama began when a Youtuber called Dr K, a man who films himself playing public pianos in London, posted a video of himself at St Pancras having a heated exchange with a group of people who said they were from Chinese television (skip to 9:00 mins). Dr K, real name Brendan Kavanagh, had been livestreaming at St Pancras when the group were caught in the background of his shot, and later approached Dr K asking to not be included in the video. The exchange escalated when Dr K said: “We’re in a free country, mate. We’re not in communist China”, which the group replied was racist. Eventually, British Transport Police intervened to stop the row, but Dr K posted the video anyway and, as of writing, it’s garnered more than 8m views. Fuelling further outrage online was news the station had temporarily sealed off the piano, which was gifted by Sir Elton with a surprise performance in 2016. Dr K’s cause was lapped up by some media outlets, including TalkTV, who invited him on for an interview headlined ‘pianist harassed by pro-China activists at London train station’. Some Hong Kong activists also rallied behind Dr K, re-sharing the time they organised a ‘Glory to Hong Kong’ flash mob at the piano. The piano has now reopened, though it’s been moved to a different location within St Pancras.
🎤 A series of interview gaffes was probably not the best way for Susan Hall to mark 100 days till the London mayoral election. The Conservative candidate for City Hall faced an intense grilling from LBC’s Nick Ferrari on Monday, in which she failed to recall the cost of a London bus fare, the starting salary of Met officers, and the correct owner of Hammersmith Bridge. The 100-day milestone has prompted lots more attention on the London mayoral race this week, including a decent explainer from The Times, which compares Sadiq Khan’s record on knife crime and housebuilding with former mayor Boris Johnson. Khan made his own headlines this week by issuing a plea to Lib Dems and Greens to back him at May’s election to avoid a split in the leftwing vote. The election will be the first to use a new first-past-the-post voting system, rather than the alternative vote, which has previously topped up Khan’s vote at the second round. One more bit from City Hall: the mayor’s office has now taken control of the decision on whether to expand Wimbledon.
🚌 Yet another electric bus fire has raised further concerns about the safety of London’s fleet. Footage of the blaze at a bus garage in Putney was widely circulated on Tuesday, and the fire has prompted operator Go-Ahead to carry out “precautionary” checks on the other 380 buses it runs across the capital. TfL has said it currently believes the incident is unrelated to the other electric bus fire in Wimbledon that took place earlier this month. The transport headaches haven’t ended there this week though — TfL has said the recent delays on the Central Line are going to continue for months, as it’s been revealed a spree of motor failure has cut the number of trains in operation. Meanwhile, a couple of EU states have accused TfL of a huge data breach after thousands of European drivers wrongly faced ULEZ fines.
😬 Some conclusions this week as to how Hackney Labour managed to let a councillor arrested for possessing hundreds of indecent images of children get elected. An independent review into Tom Dewey, a councillor for De Beauvoir for 11 days, has now reported back its findings to Hackney council, concluding ‘very little’ could have been done to have taken Dewey off the ballot despite his arrest weeks before in 2022. The head of the inquiry, John Henderson, told Hackney councillors on Wednesday that: “I’m not sure much could have been done to stop Mr Dewey because he was, after all, innocent until proven guilty” — though Dewey was later convicted for possessing the images in August last year. The scandal over Dewey snowballed to such an extent that it led to the resignation of Hackney’s mayor and Dewey’s housemate, Philip Glanville, after an image surfaced of them together at a Eurovision party. More drama from London’s town halls: Lambeth council has faced protests after rejecting a vote calling for a Gaza ceasefire, while Tower Hamlets has had its decision to block a new 1,500-home development in Poplar overruled by City Hall.
👮 The BBC has taken an in-depth look at the new strategy the Met Police is rolling out in London’s high crime areas: Clear, Hold, Build. Since December, 70 officers have been trialling the new approach on Blackstock Road in Finsbury Park and carrying out its three phrases: ‘clear’, where police arrest suspects and move them on from the area, then ‘hold and build’, where officers work long-term with local groups to ensure trouble doesn’t return. Business owners who spoke to the Beeb were positive about the impact so far, with one saying: “Finally, it feels like the hope is coming back”. The Met has adopted Clear, Hold, Build from other UK police forces in an effort to fix its trust issues with Londoners, after the force was put under special measures in 2022 and then later widely criticised by the Baroness Casey review in 2023. Elsewhere for the Met this week: the force revealed it recently made five arrests in Croydon using its live facial recognition technology, and the firearms officer charged with Chris Kaba’s murder is going to be named in March.
⚖️ Grenfell Tower survivors and families have been undertaking a novel form of restorative justice this week. For the past few days in central London, survivors of the 2017 fire have been sharing their agonising testimony in front of executives and representatives from the companies and institutions blamed for the disaster. That includes Behailu Kebede, a minicab driver in whose flat the fire started — his testimony was read out by an actor at the event being held at Church House in Westminster on Tuesday. There’s been an extra push for justice for Grenfell as of late, in the wake of the parallels with the Post Office scandal.
💸 Last week we pointed out the humongous debt hanging over Barking and Dagenham council, but it turns out another London borough is closer to the brink of bankruptcy. On Wednesday Havering Council warned it has six weeks left until it goes effectively bankrupt, unless it’s given a £54m loan by the government. The east London borough has said extra spending pressures from social care and housing are partly pushing it into the red. Eek — that’s another London bankruptcy potentially by March 6 then.
🔍 And finally, we leave you with:
‘how some of yall expect sadiq to tackle knife crime’
Hate for the green parakeets (‘hooligans’) in London’s parks
How TfL is battling Tube tunnel noise
All of Us Strangers being filmed on the Tube
Somerset House’s new exhibition on the ‘irresistible force of cuteness’
The slightly underwhelming ‘fake steering wheels’ on the DLR
On the border of a London party park
Diane answers the door in her dressing gown — she’s against the new plans for Victoria Park, but sees the funny side of one recent encounter she had with festival-goers. “We spotted someone coming onto our porch through our doorcam, and they left this big bag behind our bin,” she explains with a chuckle. “I got my son to go have a look and bring it inside — it was full of those silver canisters, the ones they use for laughing gas. My son’s in his twenties and he said, ‘well, they’ve said goodbye to that,’ but I made him hand the bag to police in the end”. A group did eventually come back looking for the bag, but Diane parred them off, saying they had the wrong address.
For ten days each year, residents around Victoria Park like Diane are joined by thousands of revellers, as they descend on east London for All Points East, one of the major music festivals in the city’s summer calendar. It will soon be more — Tower Hamlets council, which manages the green space, is pressing ahead with plans to up the number of days major events can be held in the park and raise capacity numbers. All Points East, and its sister event Field Day, were already one of the biggest festivals in London, with capacities of upwards of 40,000 on some nights. The new rules could see it run to 12 days in 2024, alongside more events at Victoria Park with a minimum attendance of 20,000, four times the current threshold of 5,000. And with it, extra ticket sales — the latest example of a London borough cashing in on their green space with private events.
Some locals are kicking off. At a public meeting this Wednesday, a petition was handed in to Tower Hamlets councillors by a group calling themselves the ‘Friends of Victoria Park’. “This is a terrible idea that would ruin our park, our neighbourhood, and our environment,” the group wrote in a statement given to the council on Wednesday, signed by 160 local residents. They want the borough’s mayor, Lutfur Rahman, to reverse the decision so the council can carry out a consultation. Their name is perhaps a nod to the Friends of Finsbury Park, another local park group that last year won a battle to get an annual mud sports event banned when photos of the torn-up ground afterwards went viral. They’re also waging an ongoing campaign to kick out Wireless Festival from Finsbury Park, though with less success.
Opponents of London’s party parks point to noise, antisocial behaviour or damage to the greenery when making their case. But from the Spy’s visit to Victoria Park this week, there are plenty of locals who are at peace with the partiers. “We love it,” said one nearby shop owner. “They don’t make any problems. They come and enjoy it, give everyone business. They cheer up everybody”. Another resident, Jane, is in the middle of a WFH meeting when we knock, but she has time to say: “We don’t mind people using the park, because we get to enjoy it”.
Others say it depends on the crowd, like one resident who spoke to the Spy anonymously. “The general rule is, if it’s a drinking crowd, it’s not great, that’s when there’s more fights,” they say. “But if it’s a raver crowd, there’s more drug use, and people tend to just be happier. Field Day can be bad, but the other days of All Points East, where it’s more dancey crowd, everyone’s just there for hugs and joy”. For one Vicky Park resident, a particular highlight of festival season is watching people try to lob drugs over the fence around the park. “It’s pretty funny.”
Helping keep locals sweet are the free tickets — residents are given the opportunity to enter a lottery to attend a day of All Points East without charge. And the uptake, even among older residents, can be surprising. “We had free tickets for Christine and the Queens [in 2019] and we loved it,” says Jenny who, along with her husband Alan, is over sixty and has lived by the park in their terraced basement flat since 1978. Though they’re wary of the festivals becoming too frequent, they’re generally supportive of the current setup. “It’s not a great a problem as it stands at the moment. I wouldn’t like to see what happens now stopped,” says Alan. “There was a period of poor behaviour — people peeing in gardens and chucking rubbish — but it’s not a lot, and I wouldn’t go overboard with it and say it’s awful.” They’ve heard angrier reactions from some neighbours though. “All the nattering groups are not happy,” says Jenny. “If you talk to them you’ll get it full blast.”
Living nearby is Carole, who’s had a flat in a post-war block by the park for 50 years. “I don’t mind the music,” she says. “The main problem is the cabs late at night, picking everybody up. They blow their hooters, they shout, people are asking for their Ubers. I came out one night and confronted security — they were screaming, and the taxis were hooting”. All Points East has been held at Victoria Park since 2018, and before that Field Day ran solo there from 2007 to 2017. But Carole instead has fonder memories of the park from decades past — “dancing and jiving” events at the bandstand, or even the open air swimming pool that was demolished at the park in 1990. The lido’s old site is where the All Points East’s stages are now.
But other long-term residents, like Mike, a few doors down, are just pleased to see the park being used, even in its modern iteration. “What’s going to go on is good, I’m happy with it,” he says. “We’ve lived here all our life, and I’ve seen many periods, and sometimes the park’s not been used a lot. You’re always going to get good and bad. It’s like if you live next to West Ham — you’re gunna struggle to park, you’re going to get noise, but it’s just one of those things.”.
Some Victoria Park residents roll their eyes when they hear about the recent petition, and describe it as NIMBYism. Kieran is one of Jenny and Allan’s younger neighbours, having lived by the park for the past five years, and he’s taken full advantage of his All Points East residents’ tickets. “Some people around the park just think the park is for them,” he says. “But they’re lucky enough to live around the park, and not everyone is, so other people should be able to enjoy the space. It’s not their backyard — it’s everyone’s park. As long as the council manage it well — I hate to see the grass die and all that — but I think they’re doing a very good job.”
There was also plenty of cynicism on the doorstep though, not least because Tower Hamlets have been remarkably frank about the reasons for expanding major events: cash. Mayor Rahman has said the borough has “no choice” but to generate the extra income, and there’s big money in London festivals, as plenty of other boroughs are proving. For Tower Hamlets, the most recent All Points East brought in £3m. That’ll partly fund some of Rahman’s big spending plans for the borough — like universal free school meals at all secondary schools. That hasn’t won over everybody though. NOx drops aside, Diane’s biggest gripe is having to prove to festival security she actually lives at her home: “All that inconvenience, just to make some money”.
Still, there’s no getting around the fact that those closest to the noise find it overwhelming. “It’s horrible,” says Ahmed, who speaks at the doorway with one of his kids at his ankles. He lives right opposite the stages of All Points East, and doesn’t get much relief from the sound barriers put up between them and his home. “The music is so loud you can hear vibration in your windows”. Further down the road is Imogen, who explains she’s already lodged a complaint with the council about the expansion plans. “In our house, we’re all autistic. So the noise isn’t just an inconvenience, it makes us really unwell,” she says. “They have been good at times though — they do sound checks, and in recent years they provided a number you could ring. And to my amazement, when I rang it, they actually turned it down a bit.”
One issue some residents are particularly torn over is access. Even though All Points East currently runs for ten days, locals find themselves shut out of the park for longer than that on either side, as organisers prepare the festival and then clean up. Some residents claimed to the Spy it can take up to a month before the barriers go down. “This area, this park is massively beneficial for people to get out of cramped houses, shared houses,” one resident says. “And you really see it in the summer, see how people utilise it and how helpful it is. To have more of it walled off for longer is an issue”. Surrounding roads get closed off at night too, which is annoying for those working late. Abby told us: “I do shift work and I’d have to find somewhere else to stay because I couldn’t get back home. But even then, it was so infrequent. Why spoil it for everyone else just so we can drive a car down a road?”
There’s no pleasing some though. In the words of Diego, who’s been living at his house by one of the gates to Victoria Park for 46 years: “Some people are just moaners. There’s even people who’ve complained about the noise from children at the fairground — they’re just enjoying themselves.” Kieran thinks there’s an easier solution: free tickets all round. “Ditch the lottery and I think more people will be onside. There’s enough room for everyone.”
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