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EastEnders actress Lisa Hammond: ‘My love letter to Old Street – and its communities under threat’

PUBLISHED: 07:44 01 December 2017

EastEnders actress Lisa Hammond, pictured at a soap awards ceremony in 2015, grew up in Whitecross Street and now lives in Barnsbury. Picture: Ian West/PA

EastEnders actress Lisa Hammond, pictured at a soap awards ceremony in 2015, grew up in Whitecross Street and now lives in Barnsbury. Picture: Ian West/PA

PA Archive/PA Images

Barnsbury actress Lisa Hammond is famous as Donna in EastEnders, but she also works with young people in the south of Islington where she grew up. She tells the Gazette why this work is so important.

EastEnders actress Lisa Hammond, pictured at a soap awards ceremony in 2015, grew up in Whitecross Street and now lives in Barnsbury. Picture: Ian West/PA EastEnders actress Lisa Hammond, pictured at a soap awards ceremony in 2015, grew up in Whitecross Street and now lives in Barnsbury. Picture: Ian West/PA

EastEnders fans know her as loudmouth Donna Yates.

And Barnsbury native Lisa Hammond is no different off screen. In fact, it was teenage attitude that accidentally led to her first TV role in the 1990s.

Lisa, who has a condition that restricted her growth and causes her chronic pain, explains: “I didn’t train. I fell into acting. I hate this term, but I had to go to a ‘special needs’ school in Hackney as I couldn’t go to my local comp, Islington Green School [now City of London Academy Islington].

“Anyway, scriptwriters from Grange Hill were visiting in a search for disabled characters.

“I was being mouthy as usual, but they asked me to audition and that accident is what launched my career. Everyone always says to me: ‘Ah, you must have gone through [legendary Islington drama school] Anna Scher Theatre.’ I have to say: ‘No I didn’t! I had no intention of being an actor. I wanted to be a lawyer.’”

Lisa, 39, was cast in EastEnders in 2014. She also has an important side project brewing. It relates to Old Street, the area where she grew up with best mate Rachael Spence.

Lisa and Rachael have created a community drama project about Old Street’s development. To do this, they went round estates interviewing older people about the changes they have witnessed.

Lisa Hammond, centre, with young people who feature in her Old Street production. Picture: Lisa Hammond Lisa Hammond, centre, with young people who feature in her Old Street production. Picture: Lisa Hammond

They then gathered young people to retell those stories verbatim. There was a performance in Roscoe Street art gallery Kunstraum on Sunday.

“The show is a kind of love story about Old Street,” says Lisa, who intends for it to become a full-scale production in 2019.

“I grew up in Whitecross Street. The area has undergone massive change and I’m fascinated by it. The show was a lovely excuse to wander around and talk to people.

“But the thing is, traditional communities are under threat. If you have a family, with rent to pay, the prices are going through the roof. Rachael is getting to the point where she is considering moving out of the area she grew up in. I could be split from my best friend.

“Parts of Old Street’s development are brilliant. Art is a massive influence. But the population has become transient.

“The older people we spoke to used to know everyone. Now Old Street is populated by students and business people who aren’t there half the time.

“It’s lost that family element, because families can’t afford to be there any more.”

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“I try and do my best to enhance the young person’s capabilities. I’m very focused on their education, their wellbeing and their cultural needs.”

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