Routemaster 29 bus to transport Cypriot community on journey of ‘belonging’
- Credit: Archant
A Routemaster bus will take 72 passengers on a journey through Greek Cypriot history, via Camden and Holloway, on Sunday.
A Routemaster bus took 72 passengers on a journey through Greek Cypriot history, via Camden and Holloway, on Sunday.
The 29 bus route has “become a symbol” of the Greek Cypriot communities’ journey, connecting key areas like Pratt Street, Holloway and Green Lanes, while also reminding first-generation migrants of their transition from outsiders to neighbours.
The bus ride down memory lane was organised by academics from Westminster and Queen Mary universities – and it’s part of the Being Human festival, which has an “origins and endings” theme this year. The bus sold out in two hours.
“Buses are curious because they cut through different areas and different people,” said Athena Mandis, who teaches film at Queen Mary uni.
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“I remember travelling on the C11 from Swiss Cottage to Archway, going from the very rich to the very poor.
“All are different classes of people and yet they are united by bus their bus route – people get used to their bus and want to go through that journey.”
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Dr Petros Karatsareas, 35, a socio-linguist at Westminster University, added: “We have managed to capture a vivid memory of Camden, Holloway and Green Lanes for the older generation.
“We believe this project resonates really strongly not only with the Greek Cypriots, but with other communities and their experiences of London life.”
Ticket-holders gathered at the All Saints Greek Orthodox Cathedral before boarding the bus, where they listened to audio memories from members of the community as they retraced what was, for many, a well-ridden bus route.
“What’s quite important to mention,” said Petros, “is when Cypriot migrants first arrived in London they did find a community of Greeks – but they were aristocratic shipping magnets and very different. They [the Greeks] went to the Hagia Sophia Church in Bayswater – where the exiled king of Greece still goes – but they didn’t like the Cypriots going there because they were economic migrants and of a lower education.”
The Anglican church gifted All Saints Cathedral to the Cypriot community on hearing of their situation.
Athena added: “One thing that came out of interviewing people is your everyday person really gets a chance to tell their story because it doesn’t feature in history books yet. It’s like: ‘My life matters and someone is listening.’
Athena explained the journey is significant because many Greek Cypriots routinely return to their old stomping grounds, whether that’s a cafe in Finsbury Park, an artisan leather shop in Pratt Street or the cathedral.
“People tend to go back to the church,” said Athena. “It’s really important and special and it’s not really about religion. It’s about belonging.”
She recounted a story told to her by the previous director of the Wood Green Cypriot Centre, where Sunday’s journey will culminate.
“He was about 17 in 1958 and used to go to one of the Greek cafes on Bayhem Street, Camden.
“The man who worked there would ask him and his friends: ‘Do you have any money?’
“But no matter what he would always give them a coffee. That was the atmosphere at the time.”
“These shops were more like meeting points,” said Petros. “So even if they were not buying anything they would go to meet people, and have a chat about things going on in the community.
Another key meeting point is the Arachne Greek Cypriot Women’s Group in Holloway Road.
“A lot of Greek Cypriot women from the older generation felt quite isolated about what their rights where,” said Athena.
“Traditionally these woman would work at home so this space gave them an opportunity to find out what else they could do.
“It’s a place where anyone can go for discussion groups and talk about their problems, which is important because there’s a lot of abuse and women’s rights issues no one speaks about.”
Athena’s family lived in Lesly Street, off the Caledonian Road, which has since been demolished. She said a lot of Cypriot Greek immigrants lived around there at the time. Her relatives then moved further afield, from Green Lanes, Tottenham, to Bounds Green.
“But I was still sent all the way back to Green Lanes to get bread,” she said. “I used to walk all the way because I found the journey fascinating.”
They hope to make a documentary from the day and show it at Regent Street Cinema.