Canary Wharf is a true feast for the eyes. Skyscrapers as far as the eye can see; shopping malls with only the top brands. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if the streets are paved with gold here. It’s so upmarket, I feel right out of place in my skinny jeans. Men and women in Armani suits are bustling all around me. I ask for directions, but nobody helps – either everyone is very busy or they’re so far up where the sun doesn’t shine, they can’t bring themselves down to my level.
It isn’t all uptight snobs and expensive coffee, however. There are normal people working here. The people who serve the bankers and business busy bodies who won’t even give you the time of day, are everywhere – in the shops and answering the phones. This is what brought me to Holly Hinton-Jones, a former UEL student who now works in Hotel Chocolate at Canary Wharf.
I wanted to find out what the Wharf is really like, not in the eyes of an Alan Sugar wannabe, but through the lenses of someone who works an ordinary job and lives a typical life in Beckton.
“I was opening the shop one day and a customer came in early. I refused to serve him because we weren’t open, and he got so angry he threw a chocolate bar at me,” Holly told me.
Is this what the Wharf’s service workers have to deal with every day? Why are they being looked down on so, and more importantly, what makes the bankers think they are entitled to behave like this? All Mr City-Type had to do was wait a minute.
Holly says that one of the benefits of working on the Wharf is the “sense of security and community amongst other staff who work in retail”. Sounds like they know to look out for each other. It’s a pity they have to, but it seems there’s no getting away from the class division between City-types and retail workers.
Let’s face it: the majority of people working at Canary Wharf are upper class and they see wealth as a real priority. You know, Gogglebox‘s Steph and Dom. And they keep you on your toes. “The way you have to converse with them is not how you would talk with someone of a slightly lower class background,” Holly observes.
The pace of Canary Wharf far exceeds that of the rest of London, which takes some getting used to. “You don’t have time to stop.” People are under time pressure and in the retail sector, “you still have to live up to their expectations.”
Adapting to Canary Wharf isn’t always an easy task, especially for someone who lives in Beckton and is originally from the Midlands.
“Where I live, people accept you for who you are. However, Canary Wharf has high expectations and money means status there. Money defines who you are. The first question you get asked in Canary Wharf when people meet you is ‘where do you work’? Whereas back where I live this is not the case, you are defined by who you are as a person and not what company you work for.”
The charges for parking your car at Canary Wharf are enough to show the disconnect from your average person. I mean, what sort of ordinary person would happily pay £25 to park their car for a day? That’s £125 if you’re working Monday to Friday!
“It makes evident the segregation between those who have the wealth in the offices and those who work in the retail sector,” Holly said.
I asked for her funniest stories of working at Canary Wharf. “There is a lady on the weekends who wears her underwear over her clothes in order to conflict with social conventions. And there’s the man who every week brings his pet snake into the Wharf and places it on random people’s shoulders. The amount of people who have fainted because of that, well I’ve lost count.”
What makes the Wharf what it is? Easy. It’s the place in East London where people try to smash down societal norms and place snakes on other people’s shoulders.
Try selling that on the global markets!