London's Latin Culture Under Threat

Stefanie Alvarez, who grew up amidst the bustling 'Pueblito Paisa' market, where her mother works, in Seven Sisters, is set on defending the much-loved north London Latin hub from the designs of property developers who, the community claims, do not have its interests at heart. Now she appeals to Latino Life readers for help.
by: 
Stefanie Alvarez

My mother, Victoria Alvarez, is a Colombian trader at the Latin Village: Pueblito Paisa in Seven Sisters Market, above Seven Sisters tube station in the Wards Corner building. Like many of the traders there, my mother came to the UK as a refugee, escaping from the 50 year long war that ravaged Colombia. As recently as  2015, Colombia was ranked 1st for internally displaced persons ahead of Syria and Iraq by the United Nations Refugee Agency. 

Over the years, Latin Americans from all walks of life and backgrounds, who found themselves making a new life in North London, came together and slowly injected the once classy North London department store, which had become derelict, with life. They created a thriving market and collection of shops where every day is a joyful celebration of London’s diversity. At its centre are restaurants and small service businesses mainly run by Latin American traders like my mother. This is the heart of London’s Latin American Community. For us, it is place where we can make a living, call home and experience Latin culture. The many Londoners who regularly take the Victoria Line to enjoy a slice of Latin America, are made warmly welcome.

As someone who grew up in the market, I can say that the market isn't just a commercial business; it provides a lifeline for Latinos, especially those who have been victims of war and terror. It is a refuge which provides support, promotes well-being and re-integration into society.

But all of this is now in danger...

image1.jpegTrader Victoria Alvarez suffering victimisation and harassment since one of her unit licences was terminated by new management appointed by TFL and developer Grainger PLC.

In part, we may have become victims of our success; we have already received a huge amount of support, which has led to the UN receiving our petition on humanitarian grounds, and much media attention, including extensive news coverage (see example below). Yet, despite ( or perhaps because of) this progress, my mother and other traders in the market are being subject to harassment and victimisation by the market facilitator, forcing us into a legal battle.

Our Case

Wards Corner is marked for redevelopment by Grainger PLC which plans to build chain stores and luxury flats (but no social housing). Our community objected during the planning process and, thanks to our supporters, this objection was heard loud and clear at the recent Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) inquiry. We and local residents also won a test case to make 'equality' part of the decision-making process. And we also won important concessions in a section 106 planning agreement between Haringey council and Grainger, stipulating that plans should protect the market now, relocate it temporarily and give it a secure future in the new development.

But the agreement is not being honoured. Instead, those who have complained, specifically from the Latino community, are now facing reprisals and market traders are being told they must give up their units.

We want the market, what it offers and represents, and our families and businesses to have a future here. Every trader should have an opportunity to be part of that future. None should be picked off and forced to leave. 

But all of our achievements are under threat. At this rate, as traders are forced to shut business, there will be no market to save. With forced removals, the demolition process has already started - that’s why we urgently need your support so that we can take legal action to safeguard the market’s future.

Bindmans Solicitors have agreed to fight our case by legally challenging the discrimination and harassment being faced by Latino traders; challenging Transport for London, which owns the market, over its failure to prevent abuses of power by Grainger’s representative; and advise us on whether we can directly enforce the section 106 agreement or market lease ourselves in the Courts, so Grainger, Mayor and the Council will keep their promises to preserve the market.

Our solicitors have been instructed to negotiate, or have formal mediations, to stop the proposed evictions taking place; and raise our concerns about the current market management with TFL, Haringey Council and the Mayor.  

Case Background

Since the test case (R (Harris) v LB Haringey), equality of opportunity and non-discrimination was supposed to be at the centre of every decision about the market. The future of the market and its long-standing traders were supposed to be protected in law by the section 106 agreement between the Council and Grainger. In fact, Grainger is legally obliged to appoint a ‘market facilitator’ to champion our interests. 

But instead, the market is being managed by Grainger’s representative unprofessionally, aggressively and destructively:  Some traders have already been forced to give up some of their units – this has happened to me. 

One of us, Fabian, has been told he should leave the restaurant he has run for over a decade. Fabian is one of the victims of the 7/7 terrorist London bombings which left him with disabilities. This happened just a few days after he gave evidence to the CPO inquiry about the market being under attack. 

Fabian, and other Latin traders have also been told they are liable to pay a utilities charge increase of 100% up to 300%, when we've been assured we should paying the basic costs. Fabian has filed a legal case to challenge the discrimination, harassment and victimisation he faces.

Collage_Fotorpaisa_0.jpgPaula Rocha and mother Helena whose licence was terminated in Nov 2017. Fernando who has been threatened by market management after giving evidence at CPO. Fabian (middle) filing a discrimination case against market management. Fabian’s trading licence was terminated in July 2017. Fabian and Fernando are both Colombian refugees.

In another case, Portuguese speaking trader Paula Rocha's licence has been terminated and the management is trying to evict her elderly mother Helena from her mezzanine floor and pass it on to another business. Helena is suffering health problems through all the stress and humiliation caused. 
There have nasty, personalised insults directed towards many of us and language with racial undertones and sexist expletives.

Whenever these things happen, we are reminded of the fact that Grainger never wanted the market as part of its development and that its representative told that he could make 90% of us leave straightaway.

How you can help

The market traders have stated that they do not want conflict. As refugees fleeing violence, many are overcoming traumatic experiences and want to get on with our lives in peace. We are willing to work with Grainger as partners, but not while being harassed by them. So we need to take urgent legal action to end the hostility and protect the market’s future.

We need to raise £7500 towards a legal defence fund to enable our solicitors and barristers take the legal action outlined above. We have less than a month to do so. Our crowdjustice campaign page is now live here: https://www.crowdjustice.com/case/latinvillagepueblitopaisa/

Your donation would not only make a difference in challenging times for fighting the discrimination against the Latino traders but would ensure the Seven Sisters Market Section 106 agreement is complied with, as it highlights the duties and responsibilities of the market facilitator.

Please donate what you can and/or share our campaign on the networks