The Latin American Community: Fighting their corner in Seven Sisters

Mayo 5, 2018

Seven Sisters Corner is the gateway to Tottenham in the north London borough of Haringey. It is known as one of the most deprived areas of London and one of the main centres affected by protests and riots in August 2011. More positively, the borough of Haringey is also recognised for its rich cultural diversity

In 2007 Haringey announced a vast and controversial regeneration programme for Tottenham, causing uncertainty and worry for the local population and especially for the Latin American community centred on the Pueblito Paisa indoor market in the old department building known as Wards Corner. Ever since the market traders and their supporters have been doggedly challenging the scheme, the proposed development, the need to move to a temporary market site and the prospect of higher costs for smaller premises when the promised new market eventually opens.

The market is a colourful, crowded, mix of shops and food stalls, beauty salons and advice bureau, everywhere full of music. The majority of the traders are from Latin America, mainly from Colombia, but also from Chile, Ecuador, Peru and Venezuela, and from Portugal, Spain, Guyana, Iran and Uganda. Their customers are from everywhere, but at least 50% are from the Latin American community.

Source: Dra Patria Román-Velazquez, Wards Corner & Seven Sisters CPO Inquiry, 2017

The long saga entered what surely seemed to be its end-stage early in 2018 when Haringey Council published proposals for a Compulsory Purchase Order. Except, in an unexpected twist, at almost the same time Claire Kober, the council leader and chief proponent of the regeneration scheme, announced her resignation in the face of growing public and political opposition. The plan, which also involves a much-criticised public-private partnership for the borough’s council housing, was put on hold until after the local elections in May when Kober’s opponents are expecting to make many gains.

This has left the Latin American community facing more confusion with, perhaps, a sliver of hope that their long campaign to have a voice in the regeneration debate may yet be rewarded. Only a year ago, 2000 people joined them in what was called ‘a big hug’ to call for continuity and security for the traders and affordable social housing for the vulnerable people in the neighbourhood. As a political protest, this had the colour and verve of a carnival.

Lita Alvarado, who owns the restaurant which faces the high street, says very proudly she is Peruvian but explains: “here we are all from the same place”. The restaurant opens every day, including Sundays, when the main market is closed. Her son, Paco, also works there together with a dozen members of staff, making this the biggest enterprise in the centre. Lita and Paco prefer not to say much about the years of campaigning against the Council’s regeneration plan. In general, that is the pattern for all traders. There is a general feeling that it is better to be cautious and a sense that they are very concerned about their future. “You can talk to Vicky”, Lita says.

Vicky Alvarez is the Director of ‘El Pueblito Paisa Limited’, a Company Limited by Guarantee set up in November 2005 by the traders of the indoor market to promote and support business development initiatives, and educational and cultural activities in the Latin American community. She came to London at the age of 18, from Anserma, Caldas, in Colombia, and started trading at ‘el pueblito paisa’ 10 years later. Vicky defines herself as “very English, but also very Colombian”. This market, she says with a smile, is “a piece of the united nations, but in Tottenham”. We, the traders, are ‘berracos’, she adds. “We are strong people, we have left our own countries, and that has given us great strength. It has been hard, but here we are.”

Vicky Alvarez

Vicky explains that their ‘battle’ has not finished yet because there are many important and sensitive issues to clarify. From time to time she becomes emotional as she describes coming to the market for the first time with some friends to sell clothes, and when she remembers coming to work with her little daughter, Stephanie, now a lawyer. At other times Vicky softly cleans some tiny tears from her face as she recalls ‘accidentally discovering’ what the Council’s plan would mean for the market, and all the stress and difficulties she and the other traders had as a result throughout the last ten years. “We cannot trust the Council”, she says. “There are issues there that need to be clarified.” Many of the traders are not entirely happy with the idea of moving to another site for some years before returning to a new market building where, they fear, fees and rents will be much higher than the current level.

In a document prepared by the London Borough of Haringey, with Grainger Seven Sisters Limited and Northumberland & Durham Property Trust Limited (the owner of the site), sets out the terms: Traders will receive at least a two months notification to consult/discuss the location of units into the temporary market. If no agreement is reached, the Developer or the Market Operator shall have their ‘absolute discretion’ to determine the location of each unit in the Temporary Market.

Grainger, as developers, will do their best to provide each Accredited Qualified Trader (AQT) with a unit of the same size of the one they have at present, but which in any case is at least 90% of that size. If an AQT rejects the unit offered (or gives grounds to indicate they are rejecting the offer), the operator of the market will request the trader to sign a release document. When this is signed, the operator will return any amounts of money due to the original trader within 28 days, and will then be free to offer the unit to another applicant. In spite of the assurance given to AQTs concerning units in the temporary market, the operator will also have the discretion to offer units to other applicants who meet the Council’s policy objective to attract and promote local independent traders.

Mirca Morera (photo: Constanza Martinez)

The market traders are worried about the prospect of   higher costs, which would force them to leave a market that they have constructing organically. Improvements are no doubt needed, but with their participation. They have been serving the diverse population of Tottenham for more than 20 years. They have spent money campaigning for better terms, relying on support within the community. “Without money you cannot do anything”, says Mirca Morera. Mirca, a daughter of Francisco Yunda, an Ecuadorian, who runs Video Mania, a video-shop in which she has a little corner for the children from the traders who come and attend small sessions on Latin American culture with her. She was a teacher and the person responsible for crow- found the campaign to Save the Latin Village. “What we are fighting is unfair, and we need money. So we need people who look at our page and support us”.

In 2010, Drs Rebecca Tunstall and Ruth Lupton, in their Mixed Communities Evaluation Project, commissioned by the Department for Communities and Local Government suggested that. “If there had to be a crude choice between traditional urban and neighbourhood renewal and mixed communities policies to address the top quarter most deprived local authorities (as Neighbourhood Renewal Fund did) or even the most deprived 10 per cent or 5 per cent of wards, the evidence suggests the former offer more limited but better-evidenced benefits at lower costs, and are also more achievable during a recession. If there is a choice between doing nothing in deprived areas and doing something, the evidence suggests doing something”.

The traders have been attending meetings in Pueblito Paisa, or nearby, every Monday for over ten years to study and plan their campaign. They cannot give up. Next week perhaps they will get a new response from the Council. It is difficult and who knows what will happen next. But what does happen next is essential not only for the Latin American community as a minority group in London but also for the population in Haringey, which is confronting serious social problems.

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