My favourite of the many ever shifting faces London has are its balmy summer twilights. The enticing smells of barbeques and anonymous wafts of skunk, the steely taste of alcohol under fruit juice mixers, the feel of warm pavement under your feet, the sight of its sullen, towering cityscape, our homes, ephemerally beautified by pastel colours drowning in the sky.
On those occasions; perhaps because they feel rarer these days, it feels like the city is momentarily at peace with itself, the cloying anxiety dissipates, shoulders loosen, and every stranger has suddenly acquired a knowing, friendly smile. Because everyone knows what’s going to happen next: a big fuck off jolly up.
And that’s the kind of atmosphere that’s perfectly captured in a new exhibition by photographer Jaime Ackroyd. Entitled ‘Block Party’, the pictures were taken over the course of a London summer night whilst one of a series of legendary annual get-togethers was in full flow. The parties are organised by local business owner Jayden Ali, whose Mare Street cafe ‘Diddys’ is currently showcasing the collection and selling prints. The event, like many that encapsulate the best of what London can be, was created in an attempt to bring together and celebrate the diversity of the surrounding communities from a collection of East London estates.
“Our estate is small and doesn’t have a playground and the like, just a car park and communal lawn to the rear,” Jayden tells me, “But it’s situated on a beautiful road with a mixture of housing types so it always struck me as a great place to have a party as the entire area is kind of a neutral ground between different communities.”
“To be honest, my mum had been hassling me all day because she was there from the start so I went down with a friend and once it started to get dark it just popped off,” Jaime adds, “It was incredible, the block party is so unique in the scope of people that it draws, it’s a true celebration of what East London is all about.”
And you can feel that brash, lovable vibrancy of a typical London party jumping out of you in every photo. Beautiful strangers catching your eye from across a dance floor, friends raising a beer arm in arm, crowds singing in unison, people of all races coming together to celebrate their differences and similarities in conscious harmony, whether dancing on top of someone’s shoulders or nodding your head next to the decks.
“I really hope my photo’s capture the essence of the party, which for me, was a real celebration of the strengths of living and growing up in East London,” says Jaime, “It managed to draw in people from all walks of life and ages, like even my Mum was dancing till midnight, and there was no trouble or animosity.”
“London is basically about people,” adds Jayden emphatically, “Our block is a pretty diverse mix: Ghanaians, Turkish, Jamaicans, Irish and so on, and in this way its representative of our city. Block party is about providing safe and common ground for them to share their culture, because all cultures revel in food and music.”
The collection of shots were taken at last year’s event which took place in the shadow of a Brexit vote that felt particularly painful to many young people in the capital and across the country, and this year’s event will be taking place after the horrific Grenfell tragedy, London Bridge and Finsbury Park terror attacks, yet despite all the heartbreaks that have been felt in London and the UK recently, or perhaps precisely because of them, events like ‘Block Party’ feel more necessary than ever.
“Last year Brexit definitely gave the party a feeling of pride and defiance about what it represented on a national and international scale,” says Jayden, “This year there are no positives in what people have suffered but there have been some humanity affirming moments, like the incredible community spirit and altruism that appeared on the ground after Grenfell.”
Jaime adds: “I think these photos show the power of community and communal celebration, which is a powerful thing because in this current climate it is easy to forget what connects us and what makes society work.”
And it’s true that it’s easy to forget about the many strong community bonds scattered in and around London’s seemingly irrevocable gentrification and hollow, gleaming commercialisation. Most of the time their somnolent day to day successes: the charity work, the social care or community projects, aren’t ever lurid or extreme enough for mainstream media to care about, but they often become apparent when called upon in crises’, and it’s that London community spirit that make events which commemorate it so important.
“The party is very clearly community focused, nothing is for sale,” says Jayden, “There is no sponsorship. We pay the costs ourselves and send the cute kids round for donations that luckily enough just covers it, so it’s a proper collaborative event.”
He adds: “Lots has been said and written about the corporatizing of London’s nightlife, like you’re not having fun unless you’re drinking sponsored drinks on a sponsored barge in a sponsored floral head band, but people’s love of Block Party just shows how people yearn for something else.”
And it’s true that London in some ways is more deprived, unequal and divided now than it ever has been, at least in the living memory of most young people living there. But in a lot of other ways it’s still the best city in the world, the most diverse, welcoming and culturally enriched, a place where you can stumble on new friends and the best party you’ve ever had in your life just by following the faint thumps of a decent system.
“Unless you can get over the fence, the festivals in Vicky Park are unaffordable for many people in East,” explains Jayden, “You don’t need money to come and enjoy block party, you just turn up. I think that’s a joyous thing that our block gifts to its community – the chance of a meaningful exchange and shared moment with your neighbours.”
London has seen its fair share of collective hard times recently, be it through crashing waves of public mourning or through the slow, grinding hardships from year after year of social cuts and sociopolitical tribalism. But on a balmy summer twilight, it still let’s you forget all about the bad times, and enjoy a party the likes of which you couldn’t have in any other city in the world.
All photos by Jaime Ackroyd: https://www.jaimeackroyd.com/
Prints are available at Diddy’s: https://www.diddys.co.uk/