The Race Against Time to Save London’s Latin Village

by Alice Figes

29 January 2020

Mario Washington-Ihieme

The Save Latin Village campaign has put out urgent messages on social media, calling on grassroots activists to take part in one of north London’s most important gentrification battles. A protest has been organised for Wednesday 29 January from 6:30pm at Haringey’s Labour office on Highcross Street.

Last Friday morning at 8:55am, bailiffs posted eviction notices on traders’ stalls in Tottenham’s historic Latin Village. The iconic indoor market, Pueblito Paisa (‘Latin Village’) or Ward’s Corner, has been in existence since 1901 and represents a core resource for 85% of London’s Latin American community.

For generations the market has provided a proud and vibrant space, with 60 units and mezzanine floors offering a range of restaurants, cafes and shops selling products from traditional cuisine to clothes, jewellery, fabrics, beauty products and telenovelas.

A predominantly Spanish-speaking community, it has also become a support space for refugees and migrants, offering free language lessons and legal advice, as well as a ‘second home’ to combat the powerlessness of being far from one’s own country. Most of the Village’s traders are of Colombian heritage, but those from Peru, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, as well as other non-latin heritages, are also represented. The majority of the traders are women.

The Save Latin Village campaign is racing against the clock to fight for its existence. Last Tuesday, a scrutiny review was rejected on all counts by Haringey Labour council: a stakes-raising turning point in what has been a 16-year struggle.

The private development company Grainger plans to demolish the Village and construct 196 luxury apartments, providing an additional 40,000 square feet for retailers. Haringey council signed a contractual agreement with the developer in 2007. In January 2019, the secretary of state approved the compulsory purchase order (CPO). Unless overturned, the agreement will ensure that Grainger can finish acquiring the site and the long-term lease from Transport for London, who own the land. Although the CPO has been given the go-ahead, it is the council’s decision whether to enforce it or not.

None of Grainger’s new apartments at the Ward’s Corner site will be affordable housing, let alone social housing, and their promises to cover the relocation costs of current traders into a temporary nearby market remain short-term. Currently, 29% of Haringey residents earn under the London living wage, while 48% have no savings for a deposit. The traders fear the so-called regeneration project will inevitably ‘clear out’ their historic community, and are exhausted by what they describe as years of intimidation and bullying, sometimes with racist overtones. In the case of Fabian Catano, a disabled 7/7 survivor and Colombian refugee who is being targeted for eviction, attempts to pay rent were rejected by market manager Quarterbridge, who work for Grainger.

A fragile ecosystem.

The relaxed laughter at last week’s scrutiny review from Haringey council leader and Momentum National Co-ordinating member, Joseph Ejiofor, encapsulated the lack of empathy that has characterised this fight for the traders. “We want to be treated with dignity and respect,” says Victoria Alvarez, a Londoner of Colombian heritage and one of the Save Latin Village’s key organisers, who was thrown out of last Tuesday’s meeting after her protestations. “These are our livelihoods at stake. We have been fighting for 16 years.”

Alvarez began selling clothes and jewellery at one of the market’s 60 units in the 1990s as a single mum. The stall allowed her to save on childcare costs she couldn’t afford, her daughter Stefanie to join her at the market after school, and gave the pair the the chance to engage with other members of the community. The Village gave Stefanie a place to practice Spanish and learn about her family’s heritage and culture. The physical community space has become crucial for passing down oral history to younger generations, stresses Alvarez – something she’s glad her daughter benefited from.

“Right now the area’s a ghost town, but it’s small business that is sustaining the neighbourhood,” says Alvarez. Big retail chains, many of whom do not pay tax, she says, will not ‘regenerate’ the area in the long-term, the derelict BHS located close to the market standing as an eerie testament. “We are the ones paying our taxes here,” says Alvarez. “The market is an ecosystem – a fragile one that shouldn’t be perturbed.”

The traders and campaigners feel they have tried every possible route to save their market. Through the N15 Trust, they have developed a full business and architectural plan as an alternative strategy for the council that is community led, democratic and crowdfunded. It provides an example of ‘municipal socialism’, something Ejiofor has supported in the past.

“We want to develop the building ourselves, so it’s a place for everyone in Tottenham, not just the wealthy,” explains Alvarez. The Trust would seek to socialise profits, pumping money back into the community through reinvestment funds in other initiatives. The campaign has also appealed to the courts countless times, and has brought its case to mayor’s question time. Tomorrow, the organisers will meet with MP David Lammy, who will be raising the question of the Village’s future in parliament.

In 2017, United Nations experts investigated the north London area and the status of gentrification, recommending that the traders’ entitlement to the site be recognised as a “human right”, warning of the threat to cultural life that redevelopment plans will create.

Yet, despite all these efforts, it is becoming increasingly clear that it will take grassroots mobilisation to support the community. “The Labour party is meant to represent the people that voted for it, but it makes me wonder who actually runs the council – the leadership or the private companies they’re appealing to?” asks Alvarez. This is not the first blow to London’s Latin American community. In 2018, the Village’s sister community in Elephant and Castle and Dalston’s Ridley Road market also faced demolition in favour of the local council’s ‘regeneration’ programmes and private developers.

Blame games.

Grassroots movements have sprung up across London in the context of the last ten years of austerity, in which time Thatcherite neoliberal policies have eroded communities and the concept of a right to affordable, social housing: from the Focus E15 Mothers in Stratford, the New Era tenants in Hoxton, the controversial regenerations plans for the Aylesbury and Heygate Estates in Southwark and Haringey’s St Anne’s redevelopment.

Allegations of deceit and corruption repeatedly characterise conversations between tenants, councils and developers. Last Tuesday’s Haringey council scrutiny review was initiated following complaints over the alleged conflict of interest of Jonathan Owens. Owens was appointed to protect the Latin Village traders’ interests as a market consultant from Quarterbridge, yet he is also the director of the asset management company that has the authority to send bailiffs to the site.

The Village and its broader community feel their words are falling on deaf ears. “It’s a game of blame football,” explains Alvarez. “Haringey council say that they cannot help us because of the CPO order over the site, yet the campaigners and traders point to the simple solution of placing the CPO on hold and accepting the traders’ democratic, community-led alternative proposal to regenerate the area and create growth. The council could offer the community the 250-year lease they have previously granted to Grainger. What it really boils down to is the political will to listen to and prioritise the working-class residents and traders of the area, which clearly Haringey council does not have.”

The community feels betrayed by Conservative and Labour leaders alike, as the city becomes increasingly tailored to fit the criteria of international elites and corporations seeking to make investments.

“Sadiq Khan said ‘London is for Londoners’, but it doesn’t feel that way,” says Alvarez. “The city is increasingly off-limits for working class, BAME communities, small business and young people. It has become the epicentre of an international elite.”

The Save Latin Village campaigners are relying on solidarity and grassroots activism this Wednesday to support their cause. But in broader terms, it will take a structural and fundamental paradigm shift to ensure communities like this one are valued and protected.

Alice Figes is an MA student and freelance journalist with a special interest in grassroots movements.

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