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from SchNEWS, Issue 526, 6th Jan 2006
Hackney Broadway Cafe resquatted (East London)
Having been temporarily evicted just before Christmas, on December 29th the squatters reoccupied Tony's café (No.34) in Hackney's Broadway Market (see SchNEWS 523), the site of a ongoing community struggle against gentrification. Whilst the property was vacant the developer's henchman managed to knock down some of the building but undeterred, the spirited protesters have begun an ambitious rebuilding scheme, and claim to be planning to create as fast as the wreckers destroy. As of January 4th they are still there but face another imminent eviction attempt and urgently need as many bodies as possible to go down and help out. Anyone with building skills, or who can provide tables, bedding, food and gas heaters or anything else useful will be especially welcome - they’ll even come and pick stuff up if you can't make it.
For more see http://34broadwaymarket.omweb.org
Tel - 07939 333 465 / 07940 814 170 or look it up in the A-Z and drop by!
From: "Jo Makepeace" firstname.lastname@example.org
Subject: SchNEWS 527, Friday 13th January, 2006
Date: Fri, 13 Jan 2006 01:32:16 -0000
HACKED OFF - SQUAT CAFE RESISTS HACKNEY COUNCIL SELL-OFF
There's a gold rush afoot in east London, and we're not invited. Also left in the cold is Sicilian café-owner Tony Platia who, together with other locals in the borough of Hackney, has recently re-occupied Francesca's Café, his business of 30 years, after being booted out last summer. It was one of many premises sold from under tenants' feet as the Council scrambled to dispose of their property over the last few years.
Now the shop front has turned frontline, barricaded in the battle to halt an ongoing stampede of investors and speculators, trailing a stench of corruption in their wake that would make Robert Mugabe blush. Tony had right of first refusal and tried to buy his place - but his cheques somehow kept getting lost in the post before they reached the Council. You, too, could get a slice of the real estate pie - if you don't mind furnishing the right officials with a few back-handers.
Francesca's Cafe, at 34 Broadway Market, E8, was bought in 2003 by multi-millionaire investor Roger Wratten, in order to build a block of luxury flats. From his mansion in Kent, Wratten is currently under investigation by the Inland Revenue for money laundering and tax evasion. Still, he's managed to buy up a rash of properties across the borough, including 2 Broadway Market, until recently the site of Little Georgia, another popular, local caff. Last August, the very day Wratten was supposed to sign a lease with the café's live-in manager, Tikka, he abruptly raised his asking price - three days later, he turned up early in the morning and turfed her on to the street.
"If we'd been in Sicily," Tony assures us, "none of this would've happened. I've lost my home, I've lost my business, I've lost everything. How can I accept that?" Indeed, he didn't take it lying down. It took 50 cops and 10 bailiffs to evict him the first time, last July. Since he re-occupied the café on November 27th, he's tapped a deep vein of local frustration and outrage at the Council, and Hackney residents have rallied around.
Other ex-Council tenants have come forward with similar stories of being swindled out of their homes and livelihoods.
Shoppers have donated food, cash and blankets to Francesca's. A regular face at the café is Betty Shanks, Mayor of Hackney in 1985, who's demanded the Council remove her photo from their walls in disgust. The occupied café now boasts a 20 foot scaffold tripod rising from its roof, ready to help the more nimble occupiers evade the bailiffs.
The current wave of gentrification that's bringing Wratten such rich pickings is down to the combination of a local real estate bonanza, and a cash-strapped council desperate to flog off its assets. Hackney Council has proved hugely successful, over the years, at throwing away money on ill-fated management schemes. Aiming to get out of the red in the second half of the 90s, Hackney flogged £30 million of its own property, in keeping with a series of privatisations among London councils at the time. Nurseries and libraries tumbled to the ground, swimming pools evaporated, and all manner of voluntary advice and advocacy groups shut up shop.
But still the council wasted cash. A botched attempt to outsource social security benefits left it £36 million out of pocket. And its failed 'Transforming Hackney' programme of institutional change led to an accounting cock-up which, we're led to believe, meant that when the auditors arrived in 2001, they found a financial 'black hole' of £72 million.
From then on, central government turned the screw, the funding cuts got deeper, the sell-offs accelerated (See 'Hackney Not 4 Sale' article, SchNEWS of the World). At the same time, with a still burgeoning London population, newly-extended underground
line and the 2012 London Olympics shimmering lucratively on the horizon, Hackney's streets began to seem paved with gold.
Broadway Market, oozes the Labour-run council, is now 'home to one of London's newest farmers markets, and an increasing range of specialist independent fashion boutiques, galleries, delis and bistros... a truly dynamic urban environment.' Yet, limping wretchedly amid financial and administrative chaos, the council has gone about stripping its assets like a former Eastern Bloc country circa 1991. In this part of London, rats don't abandon a sinking ship - they stay on board to hand out the rich spoils to their mates. And not sharks, but wolves have gathered.
Up the road from Francesca's at number 71, a Rastafarian named Spirit has built up his Nutritious Food Gallery since 1993, selling fresh fish and veg. Like Tony, he tried to buy the property in December 2001, presenting the council's estate agents with a deposit cheque for £10,000. Mysteriously, it was later sent back to him, unused. He turned up at the auction the same day. In a spectacular coup for Hackney's Equal Opportunities policy, the only black Rastafarian to have attended the sale was summarily barred, due to 'concerns' that he may not have been able to pay.
For the time being, Spirit is still trading, but now his place is owned by Broadway Investments (Hackney) Ltd., run from a PO box in Nassau in the Bahamas. Since 1997, while it's often proved impossible for locals to buy out their own places, the council has been keen to spread a little bit of Hackney all over the world - selling properties across the borough to companies in Moscow, South Africa and Dubai. But many, apparently unrelated, individual companies to have walked off with ex-council stock have turned out, curiously, to be traceable back to Nassau.
But for all the council's claims to have been seeking 'best consideration' - that's the highest price, to the you and I - in respect of the properties they've sold, 'Broadway Investments' underbid Spirit by £15,000. You don't need to go by Spirit's shop to catch the whiff of something fishy. The entire debacle of the Hackney's sell-offs is currently being investigated by Scotland Yard's Public Sector Fraud Office.
Back at Francesca's last December 21st, Wratten's men turned up brandishing a court order, and managed to evict the newly-occupied café. They demolished the roof, stairs and rear wall, before the Health and Safety Executive turned up and stopped them. On Boxing day, however, the locals re-squatted the place and, with the help of some friendly nearby builders, managed to re-build the roof and walls.
'Occupation by the local community' reads the banner above the door of Francesca's. 'Against Corrupt developers. We want our café not yuppie flats!' The pressure is on the council to find a way of re-possessing Spirit and Tony's properties on their behalf, come clean about the corrupt sell-offs, and end its relentless drive toward a brave new bourgeois world of creative 'agencies', and skatewear boutiques, in which beer is only to be sipped in some infernal, minimalist den of glass and marble.
As SchNEWS went to press, the occupiers of the café at number 34 were expecting an eviction any day. Should bailiffs move in on Spirit's shop, they've promised to occupy that too. "The support of community has been brilliant," enthuses Tony; "they've been all Sicilians here, except without the shotguns."
Monday 16th January 7.30-9.30pm.
St Michael's Church Hall, corner of Lansdowne Drive & Lavender Grove, Hackney E8.
Come and have your say before Deputy Mayor of Hackney, Jessica Crowe.
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