You may have noticed the blog has been a little neglected of late. This is mainly because I have head my head down, working hard and running a business. Much like the traders in the arches on Atlantic and Brixton Station Road who are currently threatened with eviction. This brutal and potentially destructive move from Network Rail, no doubt encouraged by Lambeth’s ambitious Masterplan, threatens to destroy one of London’s last remaining independent business hubs – turning Brixton into another cluster of homogenised high streets in the process.
Atlantic Road and Brixton Station Road and its traders are the main arteries of Brixton. Without these arteries the heart of this unique community will stop beating. You can feel the love, effort and pride emanating from these businesses, many family-owned and dating as far back as the 1930s. Every shopkeeper has worked tirelessly to serve the local community and create the commercial destination that Brixton has now become and this is their reward? Nothing smells and sounds like walking up Brixton Station Road as the sun bounces off the Rec and the market traders set up. Few other shops in Brixton can match the warmth, quality and personal service of A&C, Mash & Sons or O Tahlo. Who will provide Brixton’s soundtrack if the music kiosks are booted out? These people are Brixton’s heritage and should be protected like any listed building would be*.
It is gut-wrenching to see so many of these traders down-trodden and defeated in the face of their landlords callous actions. When another local institution Nour Cash & Carry was threatened with untenable rent hikes in 2013, Brixton fought to save them and they won. No community fights harder for its independent businesses and the reaction to these evictions so far has been just as impassioned. Local solicitors have been offering their services to the traders and a strong defence is building. Fellow Brixton business owner Binki Taylor summed feelings up perfectly in her letter to local councillors.
As Binki mentions, we can all appreciate the need for growth and that large chains are needed to help subsidise the rates of the smaller, independent businesses in the area, to create jobs and offer variation to Brixton’s growing consumer population. Soaring house prices have lead to an influx of wealthy, young professionals with money to burn and the landlords, of course, want to capitalise on this. However, they have acted so bluntly and insensitively on that impulse that it’s clear to see they have no understanding or appreciation of their current assets – their existing tenants. It is vital that we fight to maintain the delicate balance between the growth and preservation of Brixton before the vibrant, diverse and unique character of the neighbourhood disappears forever. Sadly the council have no direct control over National Rail’s decision, as councillor Jack Hopkins explains here, so we can only hope that they chose to react compassionately.
Community is a key factor for happiness and quality of life – particularly in a city as isolating and unforgiving as London. I feel extremely lucky to have been accepted into the Brixton community since our food business began here in 2009. Most mornings I lock my bike on Atlantic Road and exchange at least 5 warm, smiling hellos in the short walk to the restaurant. Soon after the news of these evictions I heard of the tragic suicide of London food blogger, photographer and fierce supporter of independent food businesses Wilkes McDermid. Wilkes, like many, didn’t enjoy being alone and found the community and interaction that he craved amongst London’s hard-working street food traders. There are so many others, like Wilkes, whose sense of belonging and purpose rely heavily upon the personal and genuine exchanges they seek within their community. National Rail’s actions threaten to destroy these everyday connections along with the livelihoods of valued, hard-working traders and their families. By all means give these businesses a chance to up their game and improve the quality of their offering in line with National Rail and Lambeth’s “vision”, but how can they be cut out altogether after such longstanding, personal investment in the area? It is a grim prospect. The only long term gain to be had here is financial for the landlords. I cannot see a gain for the community…. only the risk of a huge, irreparable loss.
PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION HERE.
* I fear it is merely the listed status of Granville Arcade / Brixton Village and its infrastructure saving it from being demolished and rebuilt to make way for bigger business or property development.