Exploring Borehamwood: Friday 10th Dec

December 24, 2010

Arriving at Borehamwood, I said to my fellow student researchers as we stepped off the train that I was setting foot into new territory. The area was a new place of encounter for the majority of us, unsure of what we might see, hear and conclude.

As we set out to join our supervisor at a local delicatessen, the high-street though different was not uncommon to our group, with the forms of high street stores therein being largely recognisable to most of us, catering to particular consumer needs and wants in the forms of essentials and luxuries while also emphasising the multi-ethnic character of the area that is usual in many London suburban areas. Large “non-Sky Digital” satellite dishes upon the roofs of the flats resting above shops meant that the television from foreign lands was beamed into English houses, and the stores below populated by foreign dialects and goods only added to the evidence of cultural diversity.

Yet also the high street bore some symbols of either a local or greater partial economic decline. The boarded storefronts splashed with politically motivated graffiti, “non-essential” businesses such as hair salons closing their doors alongside the ever-present charity shop whose goods are the free debris of other consumers, allowing them to persist in many retail environments where other stores may have perished. While Cash Converters, the pawnbroker, had its windows glisten with electronics stripped from their initial owners, another trade that would find it hard to disappear in tough times.

This is not to say that the high street of Borehamwood is at all dilapidated. Even upon a Friday morning when many folk would be at work, people were still present in the streets, in the stores, working behind counters and sitting around tables with family, friends or both. The warm atmosphere of chatter in the delicatessen we agreed as our meeting point was a testament to this: if Borehamwood had certain businesses suffering, then it was limited to certain practices and specific spheres.

Soon we were on our way out to explore the residential areas and we had barely turned off the high street upon a road that allowed our gaze to trace the outline of the fictional community encompassed by the television studios, that we saw another symbol of a specific form of decline. A house with windows covered by wood and a door firmly locked, a garden of spindled, unkempt grass at its foot, adjacent to a property with clean, white net curtains, a car outside and evidence of habitation through the maintained aerial for TV reception. It was not the only house in the area to have this appearance and lack of human imbuement, but it did beg the question of why it would be allowed to get to such a state. It raises notions of whether it was the houses, the street or the area as a whole that contributed to its fall. The explanation to that query may show itself as a matter of interest in future.

Yet these houses were anomalies in relation to the wider residential environment we traversed. Some inhabited dwellings were draped in decorations for the holiday period, others presenting more permanent displays upon their front lawns, while further properties were clearly the subject of embellishment by their owners, sporting new porches, driveways and elaborate water features by the garden path being found dotted around the area. It was then no surprise that a shop dealing specifically with outer household fittings could be found located right in the middle of the residential area, quite a way from the “official” commercial centre. In fact, our interest in one such painstakingly maintained household frontage aroused the suspicion of the neighbour across the road, worrying what several out-of-place young men with cameras would find so fascinating about what was behind the forward fence of the house across the road!

The first trip really seemed to issue more questions than it did answers: while Borehamwood did at points seem to be an area suffering from the effects of an economic decline, other businesses were thriving. Multiple visual representations of identity, personal and group which might suggest segregation did not stop atmosphere and objectification of social communities greeting us in the sounds of conversation in the public house, neighbourly concern for the opposite home and the symbolic mourning of an accident at the roadside…  if anything can be concluded thus far, it’s that typifying a suburb in accordance to any one practice or group that was visually present in what we observed would be making an assumption. I guess the real question is… when are we going back for another look?

(This is simply my take on the first group exploration of a London suburb: I invite everyone else to add comments on what they felt, saw or thought upon that same day!)

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One Response to “Exploring Borehamwood: Friday 10th Dec”

  1. suburbanite Says:

    Notably, the delicatessen mentioned in this blog was a kosher bakery, Orli’s. The bakery is located along a section of the high street that seems to have been in decline for a while, but is currently undergoing a revival due to the appearance of several kosher eateries along this section.


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