Hackney was a different place a decade ago. Back in 2010, the area was infamous for being the most deprived borough in London and the sixth most deprived local authority in the country. Back then, to outsiders at least, the mere mention of its name was enough to elicit looks of both sympathy and concern, which, given that it was home to a notorious stretch of road known as ‘murder mile’ and was synonymous with crime, violence and poverty isn’t any wonder. But gentrification works fast in the capital and just two years later, in 2012, the year The Olympic Games was held on Hackney’s doorstep, The Observer commented on how: “The area’s traditional demographic – white working class, Turkish, Asian and Afro-Caribbeans – increasingly share the space with newcomers, who attend arty happenings…and then go for some organic Sussex wine.”
Hackney’s transformation has accelerated in the years since, and the borough is now commended for its social mobility credentials, while the number of mums sipping on “flat whites, nibbling courgette cake and chatting as their kids fight over an abacus” – again witnessed by The Observer– has multiplied too. Like most areas, gentrification has brought positives and negatives, with the main negative in Hackney being that some of the community’s residents and businesses, good people who have been there all along, have been pushed out, while the liberal elite has been transported in. But whoever the borough has been home to, one business has stood firm and continues to offer a place for all local residents to train at affordable prices. Just as it has done since 2010.
Owned by three born and bred Hackney boys, Afolabi Akinola, Joshua Oladimeji and Emeka Obanye, Elite Evolution is a black-owned gym. It’s important to say that because, as Oladimeji observes, the word black is associated with so many negative narratives, when it’s associated with something positive, we should all shout about it. And what could be more positive than three young, black entrepreneurs who for the past decade have successfully fought to keep their business in Hackney, while holding second jobs in education and the prison system, in order to serve the community that moulded them.
“I felt like it was our responsibility,” says Oladimeji. “We didn’t shy away from that, we believe that we needed to be positive, we needed to be out there and we needed to show that there’s a safe space for anybody to come in and feel like this is somewhere they can train, where they can work out and won’t be discriminated against. [And for trainers] they’re not thinking that they can’t go higher than being just a trainer. They can be managers. They can be owners.”
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