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The rise and rise of internet marvel Memories of Canning Town

Rathbone Market, Canning Town. Rathbone Market, Canning Town.

Sunday, November 25, 2012
12:00 PM

How do you create an internet phenomenon? The answer could be a happy marriage of the old and the new as Sarah Cain found when she created spectacularly successful Memories of Canning Town.

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Canning Town skylineCanning Town skyline

The online group, created by Sarah two years ago, started life as a simple sepia photo album on Facebook that the mother-of-two put together so her children would have some connection with their roots.

Sarah went to bed and while she slept, people had shared the album with friends and relatives, and she woke up to discover the photos had been seen by around 3,000 people.

What’s more, the album had prompted a steady stream of discussion - of memories, old families, shops, cinemas, markets, and legendary older relatives whose tales had trickled down the generations.

Sarah decided to set up a Facebook group to accommodate all the old Canning Towners and keep them in touch, no matter how far they had moved away.

The idea turned out to be phenomenally popular and the group has now amassed over 3,800 members, around 6,000 pictures have been shared, and it has turned into a website of its own www.memoriesofcanningtown.co.uk.

Sarah said: “I didn’t want to put the group out there unless it was already established and now I think it’s the right time because it really is.

“It has so many members, its sits with its own website and it does its own charity work.”

The last Memories of Canning Town reunion, in the East Ham Working Men’s Club on Boleyn Road, saw some 300 former residents return for a jolly good knees up while raising £1,600 from a raffle and an auction for Richard House Children’s Hospice in Beckton and St Joseph’s Hospice in Hackney.

Sarah said: “We all get together and we have a really good night.

“This year I have got a friend of mine to make some pie and mash, we’re always going on about pie and mash, and some jellied eels. He’s even shutting his shop to make enough for us all. But there are a few surprises in store as well.

“Last year was a blinding success. There was this man, I’m trying to think where he came from, but he travelled for four hours to get to us.”

Sarah moved to Kent 15 years ago but says she is still in Canning Town most weekends to see family and friends who have stayed in the area.

The Facebook group, and now the website, has been a labour of love for Sarah for the past two years as she approves members, moderates the group, adds more photos, solves minor disputes, and organises fundraising events.

The E16-ers have even inspired spin-off groups dedicated to Plaistow and East Ham.

Sarah said: “There’s some harsh language on there but that’s just what we’re like. That’s the way we talk.

“There’s no hidden characters on there, what you see is exactly what you get.

“It’s been my life for two years but now I go on holiday and I say to them, ‘Now you be good all of you and behave yourselves until I get back’.

“Our group’s the Guvnor of all the groups - and they call me the Guvnor which I bloody hate, I hate it when they call me the Guvnor!

“I think it’s lovely that my group has inspired other people to make their own dedicated to their areas.”

It seems that, like the Recorder’s Memory Lane section, Memories of Canning Town thrives on an insatiable appetite to relive the ‘good old days’ of the traditional East End.

When asked to explain this phenomenon and what drives the people to return again and again to Canning Town - even if that reunion is an online experience - Sarah struggles to explain the profound attachment people feel for the area.

Finally, Sarah said: “In the East End, they struggled so much but no matter what, they all helped each other and it was a community.

“So they struggled but they still had a smile on their face and they were happy. For many people on the group, they say that growing up there was the happiest they have ever been. And I suppose that’s it.”

The next Memories of Canning Town reunion is on November 30 at the East Ham Working Men’s Club, 2 Boleyn Road, E6 1QE.

Tickets are £15 with all proceeds going towards funding the event and charitable donations given to Richard House Children’s Hospice.

Join the Memories of Canning Town Facebook group at http://www.facebook.com/groups/Memoriesofcanningtown or visit the website at www.memoriesofcanningtown.co.uk to find out more.

Sarah is also planning a Christmas celebration and a Hallowe’en event for 2013.

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