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Well Street shopkeepers accuse charity bosses of gentrification

PUBLISHED: 17:53 19 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:45 21 April 2016

Traders in Well Street say they are being forced out of business. Picture: Ken Mears

Traders in Well Street say they are being forced out of business. Picture: Ken Mears

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Shopkeepers in Well Street feel they are being driven out by huge rent increases and costs imposed by their “bandolero” landlord – a charity that tackles poverty.

Trust Shoes is set to leave its unit in June. Picture: Ken MearsTrust Shoes is set to leave its unit in June. Picture: Ken Mears

The independent traders fear their businesses in one of Hackney’s oldest market streets are falling prey to the increasing gentrification of the area, symbolised by the new fashion hub launching nearby in Morning Lane.

A number of shopkeepers spoke to the Gazette – but none wanted to be named, fearing they would be singled out by bosses at the Hackney Joint Estate Charity, the business arm of Hackney Parochial Charities, which supports people in poverty.

The charity, through estate agent Strettons, is developing the buildings and putting out contracts to tender, and the shopkeepers are bound by leases to pay their share.

But some feel the charges, and increases in rent to match market rates, are squeezing them out. One shop has recently closed, another will shut in June and many more are in danger of going under.

Johns Cards closed recently. Picture: Ken MearsJohns Cards closed recently. Picture: Ken Mears

One trader said: “They have killed the street. We have kept paying our money through all the hard times and now we are being pushed out because there is big money in the area.

“They are cleansing the street of people who are essential, the lifeblood. We understand they need to make money, but it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it.

“They are trying to create exclusivity and local people don’t want that. They are operating like a bandolero and destroying lives.”

Well Street has been at the centre of trading in Hackney for hundreds of years, and is the market where Tesco founder Jack Cohen started trading in 1919.

A steep rent hike for Well Street Fish and Chips has left it fighting to stay open. Picture: Ken MearsA steep rent hike for Well Street Fish and Chips has left it fighting to stay open. Picture: Ken Mears

This is the second time traders have accused their bosses of steep rent hikes, following a street-wide dispute in 2011 when one trader’s rent rose from £6,500 to £18,000.

The joint estate charity has strongly denied accusations it is driving out tenants, saying it fully supports the community.

Clerk Ben Janes told the Gazette: “We have to charge market rent, but the directors will negotiate with tenants and any suggestion we are not prepared to is wrong.

“We are not trying to socially engineer that street. The idea the charity is trying to squeeze people out is ridiculous. The directors are committed to properly managing their properties, making sure they are in good repair and that tenants live up to their responsibility. Maybe we could do better, but we’re really trying.”

"They are cleansing the street of people who are essential, the lifeblood. We understand they need to make money, but it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it"

Shopkeeper

He said the charity was “sharpening its act” after some previous arrangements with tenants were “not as they should be”.

“What does the community want?” he added. “Does it want the best quality shops on the street? Some people want everything to stay exactly as it was 20 years ago.”

The charity regularly attends meetings held by The Well Street Traders and Residents Association (Westra). Secretary Cllr Ian Rathbone said Westra had tried to support businesses in difficult times and footfall was now growing.

He added: “Markets happen through a happy combination of people wanting to buy what other people are selling, and if that is not working you improve and change your offer through marketing, quality and moving with the times. There are successful businesses in Well Street – old and newer - who adapt to customers’ needs.”


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