The Traders of the Seven Sisters Indoor Market talk to VOZ about why their market is irreplaceable and their current fundraiser to create a community hub.
The entrance to the Seven Sister's Indoor Market photographed by Valeria Ghersi.
For over fifteen years the traders of the Seven Sisters Indoor Market have been fighting against the demolition and gentrification of their workplace. The Pueblito Paisa —as it was christened by its inhabitants— was a hub for the Latin American community and provided jobs for countless immigrants.The Latin Village market is located in the TfL-owned Wards Corner building — a charming and imposing red-brick structure — in Haringey Council. The area was identified for a mixed-use regeneration in 2002, and Grainger plc was selected as the development partner. But traders (alongside locals) have expressed their discontent and worries with the proposed project which would result in the demolition of the indoor market and their relocation. They state being relocated is not a viable long-term solution as they fear being unable to afford the rent of their businesses’ premises when these are appraised after the 5-year guaranteed rental plan offered to them by Grainger plc. In 2019 a Scrutiny Review of Wards Corner conducted by the Local Borough of Haringey stated, “Panel members believe that the Latin market should be seen by Haringey Council as a valuable asset to the borough’s Cultural heritage. […] the aspirations within the Council’s Borough Plan allows for policy that builds on the cultural hub already in existence.”
The United Nations has also interfered in the trader’s favour and alerted public stakeholders Haringey Council and the Mayor of London (Chair of Transport for London) regarding human rights concerns. Their latest letter (2019) stated that, “[…] the alleged regeneration project would have a detrimental impact on the livelihoods of 120 traders” and that it would mean, “the destruction of a cultural interaction space for traders and residents. […] the regeneration project would result in increased market value in the area, which would make it impossible for current residents and traders to remain in the neighbourhood.” The letter also mentions that Market Asset Management (MAM)—TfL’s tenant (at the time) and the market operator since 2015— “has been accused of neglecting the buildings of the area, which had a severe impact on the appearance, conditions of work and environment of the market, as well as of several incidents of inappropriate behaviour, abusive language towards the traders, and poor market management.” Additionally, Quarterbridge, the market facilitators (whose role is to advocate for the traders), was owned by the same company as MAM. A clear conflict of interest that started in 2016 when they were hired by Grainger and ended in 2018 when Quarterbridge stepped down. TfL claims they, “sat down on several occasions with the traders and Market Asset Management (Seven Sisters) Ltd (MAM) to try and promote better relations between them,” but this did not result in any improvement or change in the relationship between MAM and the traders.
Wards Corner building photographed by Valeria Ghersi.
About eighteen years ago, Mirca Morera started the ‘Save Latin Village’ campaign to raise awareness about the issues being faced by the traders of Pueblito Paisa. The campaign’s website states the regeneration program has used “harmful strategies such as neglect and managed decline which led to serious health and safety concerns to the detriment of the community.” In March of 2020, the market was forced to close its doors by the then still tenant, MAM, due to a failure in the electricity supply and then due to Covid-19 restrictions. They have remained closed ever since as the building has been deemed as not safe to reopen due to inability to comply with Health and Safety regulations, a long-term effect of the neglect by the market operator which has left most traders without the possibility to work. “[It’s been] a really long time for traders to go without their businesses but also for the community to not have access to essential services,” states Javie Huxley, one of the co-chairs of the Save Latin Village campaign. In December of 2019 TfL commissioned an independent report where they highlighted critical health and safety issues at the market. They state they were “disappointed at the lack of progress by MAM in taking forward the recommendations in the report.” As a result, TfL proceeded to transfer the lease from MAM to TfL in 2020. But the damage was already done, and the question remains as to why it took them so long to act upon MAM’s mismanagement of the market.
TfL states they are “carrying out essential works on retail units on the High Road so these traders can continue to operate safely and legally,” however most traders with businesses inside the market whose shops remain closed have been unable to find a new source of income. TfL also states: “at the request of the Mayor of London, we have provided direct financial assistance to the traders to help support them while they are unable to open. The financial assistance was distributed equally between those licensees trading immediately before the market was closed. All 37 applications received for a grant were successful, with each licensee receiving an initial sum of £13,150 in December 2020. A total of £486,550 has been paid out, leaving a balance of £13,450 to be utilised upon a basis to be agreed.” But: “When you do the math it’s not much,” states Huxley, “considering how many traders there are, how long the Latin Village has been closed, how a lot of the traders have struggled to get access to self-employment grants, the cost of living in London… it’s nothing.”
The area where the Latin Village is located, next to Seven Sisters Station photographed by Valeria Ghersi.
The traders have manifested their lack of trust in the developers, citing the confusing communication they have received on each turn. Currently, they demand clear answers from the stakeholders regarding their future and that of their businesses. They also support the implementation of the ‘Wards Corner Community Plan’, an alternative to Grainger’s regeneration, which received planning permission in 2015 and 2019 and aims to restore the site and create a market that is self-managed by the community. Due to a Compulsory Purchase Order approved by the Secretary of State in 2019 TfL is contracted to sell the market’s building to Grainger plc. The CPO also gives Grainger plc the permission to commence the “regeneration” plan and therefore demolish the Latin Village. “[When the CPO was issued] the group that had the biggest say in it was Haringey Council,” comments Huxley, “they had the ultimate decision to go ahead, and they sided with the developers by allowing the CPO to be issued.” The traders challenged the CPO at the high court, but the appeal was rejected in 2020.
Their story is part of a larger issue: the displacement of Latin American communities throughout London. The Elephant and Castle Shopping centre, previously a huge hub and workplace for many Latinxs living in London was demolished in 2020. In its place will stand a town centre, which their official website says will include an “upgraded tube station and a cutting-edge new campus for UAL’s London College of Communication.”
The Latin Village Market became a place of gathering and offered opportunities for growth for the Latin American migrant community, who in return contributed to the area’s economy and cultural richness. Currently, the Save Latin Village campaign is focused on fundraising money for a ‘Wards Corner Community Hub’. “[It] would be a temporary solution to not having the Latin Village, sadly it wouldn’t be a space for trading, but it would be a space for essential services,” says Huxley. The idea is to use the unoccupied building next to the Latin Village as a community resource hub to give people access to legal advice, translators, and other helpful services. Their deadline to reach their funding goal is the 27th of July 2021.
The amount of time the traders have been fighting for their Pueblito Paisa is a true testament to not only the immense value it has but also to the resilience of the community. They will continue fighting for however long it takes to preserve the irreplaceable hub they created.
Haringey council and Grainger plc declined the request for an interview. TfL declined the request for an interview but provided the information quoted in the article.
To keep up with the Save Latin Village campaign visit https://savelatinvillage.org.uk/ or follow them on Instagram @savelatinvillage.
Read the testimony of some of the traders below or watch our interviews with them.
Vicky Alvarez photographed by Lucio Martus.
I came to London when I was 18. My dad was living here at the time, and we came as refugees. It was difficult, the priority back then was to work to be able to pay rent. I started working in the market about 20 years ago. [As a] single mum I needed a place where I could earn money and be able to look after my daughter. We were three [Latino] families that started in the market. We [invited] friends to come and see our shops and that's how it started to evolve, more shops became empty, people [started] different businesses and it evolved into a hub for the community. These kinds of places need to exist to help the community. The Latin Village is a place that [Latinos] depend on because our community is invisible and it's very fearful. Many people don't realize that you have a British passport, so you have rights – even if you don't, you have rights as a citizen. We have been fighting for that inclusion, for that visibility, for the voice that people don’t have. [When] I heard the market was going to be demolished, my instant reaction and biggest fear was ‘What am I going to do?’ ‘What is the community is going to do?’ So, we [formed] a coalition made of traders and residents of the area and we started fighting back. It has been 15 years of fighting and it’s still difficult because we don't know what's going to happen. [It’s] like an arranged marriage between the developer and the community, which is not working. Developers around the world need to understand that if they want to develop something it never has to be at the expense of the community. They are trying to destroy a community that is functioning perfectly. They need to consider [our] needs. The perception that they have is, ‘these people are troublemakers,’ ‘they don't even speak English…’ We haven't been able to move fast enough because [of] the lack of consultation with the community, [the developers] never speak transparently. I don't trust them. How could I? Last year we had a market operator [MAM] who made the life of many traders miserable. Who was the guarantor of MAM? Grainger. They allowed the market to go into disrepair, that's why we [currently] don't have a place to trade besides the people on the front street. Haringey Council has [been] unhelpful, nothing but siding with the developer rather than listen to the community. So, how can you trust the developer? How can you trust your council when they’re not there to support you? You realize that you're on your own and [try] to find the answers yourself. We hope that the TfL, the local government, the traders, and the community get on together, and do something decent for the community that need it so badly. We are willing to engage and to work with them if they're going to treat us with respect and be transparent. The community is extremely resilient. Giving up is not an option. That [is] our Latino DNA, because life in our countries is hard. [The campaign] is about people, equality, inclusion, and respect. I'm going to carry on until the community's gets [the] recognition that it needs so much. I want people to help by checking out our website and by [getting] involved. Regardless [of] where you're from, you're sending a strong message to developers who want to destroy under the name of ‘regeneration,’ [it’s] not regeneration [it’s] gentrification. Whatever you can donate in time and skills [is] hugely appreciated.
Fabian Alberto Cataño Cadavid photographed by Luca Vannucci.
I came to London 22 years ago because of the economic situation [in Colombia] and because of political persecution as well. One leaves Colombia to escape terrorism, but unfortunately, on 07/07/2005 I got on the train [to go to work] and when the train departed [from King Cross] towards the next station there was a big explosion. I lost the hearing in my right ear, I have pieces of metal in my leg, I’ve had seven surgeries and I almost died, but I’m here. [Also,] I was extubated a year ago. I was in the hospital for 33 days [because of Covid-19 and spent] 28 days in a coma. Many things have happened to me…now the closure of the market... They say that they are helping us, but then they lie… they play with us because we are Latinos. When I had the accident, I had [PTSD], I couldn’t hear loud noises. … After a year and a half, I [went] to the market, [and] a friend of mine [who] had a business [in the Latin Village] told me, ‘Fabian, I’ll sell you half of my business,’ so I [bought it]. I started with a box of bananas, selling arepas, empanadas…. I made myself known. I sold my specialties like my bandeja paisa, sancocho de gallina, sancocho de cola…. I’ve been in the market for almost 18 years. I miss it enormously. I have another restaurant ‘El Botellón Latino’, but it’s not the same. [When] I was suffering from [PTSD] the best therapy for me was coming to the market. When the crisis started in Spain, the Latinos started to come [to London]. There were people, who arrived and [didn’t have] anything to eat, [so] I would tell them ‘Come by in the afternoon, I’ll give you food.’ This was a hub. They arrived in London [knowing to] go to Seven Sisters or Elephant and Castle. Many times, I took [people] to my house, [I would say,] ‘Come, don’t spend the night outside, it’s getting very cold.’ So, the Pueblito Paisa is very important to us Latinos. [Our biggest concern] is the uncertainty. The lies they tell us… They should talk to us, so we know what to expect. [I want to tell people that] when they see an ad asking for help for the Pueblito Paisa, it doesn’t matter if it’s a pound, it helps us. It is not for our businesses, it’s to provide support in terms of lawyers, expenses, [etc.] and whenever you see [an ad] share it with everyone [so] we keep growing and move forward.
Yesenia Cuevas photographed by Lucio Martus.
I owned a small business in Spain that I had to close because of the crisis. That’s why I came to London [in] June 2012. When I arrived, the [change of] language impacted me… One day I went into Pueblito Paisa, I said I wanted to work, and they gave me an opportunity. I started my own business in 2014 and I didn’t stop working until the market closed. In the Latin Village everyone was very friendly. People from other cultures and religions came [because] they felt identified with the services the Latinos provided. [As Latinos] we treat people kindly, [with] a smile and we provide a good service. The Latin Village was one of the places [I could identify with] because Latinos were there to support you. [Currently] I can’t work because [the market] is closed. [The relocation] provides no security for us. We were concerned about high rent prices. They are not adjustable to the community that we have in Pueblito Paisa. Most of our customers are restaurant workers, cleaners, they work at hotels and earn 8 or 10 pounds per hour. We didn’t trust the [developers and stakeholders] because they [repeatedly] contradicted each other. The [Haringey] council was indifferent… because [to them] we’re a minority [as] Latinos. [But] we know that we [contribute to] London’s economy. I still pay my taxes. I don’t want to live off the British government. I’m not interested in that. I have the ability, strength, and willingness to keep working. I’ve been [paying taxes] since I arrived at this country. Therefore, I deserve respect, as do my peers. For the moment I’m living off my savings and the support of my relatives, but we are wearing thin. They must make a firm decision so that we can get our jobs back in Pueblito Paisa. Haringey Council should pay more attention and be firm in the decisions and dialogues they have with Tfl. I want to call upon the Latino society [and] the Hispanic Afro-descendants, [to] show solidarity with Pueblito Paisa. Today it is us, but tomorrow it could be them in any corner of London or Europe.
Nelson Martinez photographed by Lucio Martus.
I’m from Colombia, [and] 27 years ago I moved to London because the [economic] situation is very difficult in our country […] so it was difficult to support my family. I came looking for new opportunities and thank God I was lucky. I am the owner of unit 52 in Pueblito Paisa. It was a butcher shop, but now we are [not allowed in]. [My shop was] doing very well […] until the pandemic and the problem with the people who kicked us out of the market. They are always lying. [I ran] the butchery for 14 years, it was a family business, it was a very lucrative job, and with the closure we are [struggling]. We have been out of business for more than a year, and only 6 months ago I managed to open a small shop, but it’s not the same. [The Latin Village] was a place that we loved. It was the breadwinner for many families. The atmosphere was very healthy because we took care of each other. For me, the best solution would be that they organize us as we were before [in the Latin Village] … improve its appearance and get back to the way we were. It’s a meeting place [for] all Latinos, where you can find a job for those who are unemployed, for those [who] arrived from abroad …so it attracts people. [We’ve been] fighting for 15 years… they’ve always been trying to kick us out. [When] we had just [arrived] they put a police unit outside [of the market]. That police unit was here two years without doing anything. When they saw there were no problems, they dismantled it and left because absolutely nothing happened in two years. They thought that because we were Colombians, Ecuadorians, and Venezuelans…. bad things were going to happen, and it wasn’t like that. It has never been like that. We take care of each other. We have people who have been supporting us. Many students [and] young people have been supporting us — thanks to them as well. [Now] we need entities [to] give us a helping hand, [to] support us so we don’t get kicked out.