London 2012: What the world found in Stratford
Newham, and in particular Stratford, has welcomed the world for the Olympic Games transforming the district into an international circus.
Westfield Stratford City, for many the gateway to the Olympic Park, was bursting.
Restaurants were teaming with international diners, particularly those with traditional British fare, while volunteers and tourists made up the majority of the crowds.
Instead of hitting the shops, it seemed people were stomping The Street section, where armed policemen explained what the make and power of their weapons.
Pictures were being taken all over the complex as queues formed in front of the plaster horsemen’s guards in front of the Liberty store.
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Packs of Jamaicans, Indonesians, and Guatamalans walked around in patriotic colours, many of them posing with giant replicas of their country’s flags, faces painted, adding to the festival feel of the day.
On the steps overlooking the Athlete’s Village, an American asked pedestrians to take a picture of him and to make sure they get the Olympic flag in the background.
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“That’s the trouble travelling alone,” he said. “You have to overcome your shyness and ask people to take pictures for you.”
Robert Davis, from Massachusetts, said: “I grew up watching the Games but these are the first I’ve ever been to. “I’ve been to London before, not this part of London but it’s a very different experience obviously, it’s all geared towards the Olympics.”
Walking back through the Stratford Centre, there’s no doubt this is a calmer than the E20 side of town. Olympic fever is in the air. The ceiling is covered in bunting representing flags from countries around the world, plus giant Union Flags hanging from the top of Central Square.
But life is still not quite as it usually is in E15 as security guards ask people not to take photographs inside the shopping centre for ‘security reasons’. But the community gathered in St John’s churchyard on the Broadway where a makeshift stage was erected for local performers entertained a small crowd enjoying refreshments on the grass.
With eyes on Stratford, some used the focus to help their causes and lend international interest to their plight.
Loudly beeping outside Stratford station, London Underground cleaners protested and found many of their beeps answered with supportive hoots from passing buses.
Campaigning for their wages to match the London Living Wage, �8.30 an hour due to capital’s high living costs, the tube cleaners waved placards, shouted through megaphones, and even had hip hop artists spontaneously freestyle in their honour.
Underground cleaner Clara Osaghede said: “Today we are the focus of the world. We are expected to do a lot longer shifts during the Games, but we are the only transport group that has not been offered a bonus. We want to use this opportunity to improve our working conditions.”
It seems whatever Stratford wants to be in the future, it is the place to be right now.