If you’d taken the Victoria Line to Seven Sisters before March 2020, you might have felt you’d left London entirely.
Affectionately known as ‘Little Colombia’, the Latin Village is normally a hive of salsa beats, with delicious smells of tamales and empanadas wafting around every corner and neighbours calling out to each other in Spanish.
The market, also dubbed London’s United Nations due to its diversity, is the culinary and cultural hub of an area largely made up of South American migrants.
Times are hard thanks to the pandemic, with many shops, restaurants and stalls still closed.
But the past two years are nothing compared to the community’s 15-year battle against the demolition of the market which they seemingly won.
Nicholas Amayo was a part of the fight to stop the demolition of the market. He is also the deputy chair of the Seven Sisters Market tenants association which helps to rehouse tenants in the area.
He told MyLondon: “It’s been a long struggle. It was good news that the developer finally decided to pull out, partially due to the campaign that we waged against them.
“This has been an ongoing battle for many years… of us just failing to accept their proposed vision of the redevelopment of the Seven Sisters market.”
The market had fallen victim to years of decline and underinvestment, leading to Haringey Council earmarking the Latin Village for redevelopment in 2002. Two years later, Grainger PLC won a bid to demolish the site and redesign it with 196 new flats.
So when Grainger announced in August 2021 that it would no longer move forward with the plans, the community celebrated.
What is clear is that the win in August was just the start for this community, which has continued to move ahead with its own vision, the ‘Community Plan’.
Preserving the culture
The plan proposes the community-led development of the Wards Corner Building and Seven Sisters Mark under four primary principles: self-management, affordable rent, new community space and reinvestment.
If the plan were to be implemented, the building would be restored and managed by market traders and the local community. New social spaces would be created with low-cost office space and profit generated by the market would be reinvested back into the building.
The plan received planning permission in 2019 and is supported by Haringey council.
Ben Beach, an architectural designer working on the plan with the architectural workers cooperative Unit 38, stressed the importance of community-led urban development taking place across the capital.
He told MyLondon: “The city is losing its cultural fabric, thousands of cultural venues that have been closed or threatened with closure… the need to provide spaces in which our culture can exist is more important than ever in the aftermath of the pandemic.
“Instead of maximising value for distant shareholders, the community plan functions as a catalyst for community wealth-building.”
A friendly, open community
According to Ben, the idea of community-led development is well supported by traders in the market and by the wider community.
Cem Kaplan, who is from Turkey and owns the Café Lemon coffee shop around the corner from the Seven Sisters Market, said that he had been following the community’s activism and that he would like to get involved in the future to help out in any way he can.
For him, diversity is what the area is all about.
He told MyLondon: “It’s a friendly and open community, shared by everyone. It’s a mix-up of different kinds of groups.”
He said that he was proud to live in such a diverse community and hopes that the area remains this way in the future.
Life after Covid
Due to the high number of traders still unable to return to work because of the pandemic, the council has voiced their support to get the village up and running again.
Peray Ahmet, the leader of Haringey council, told the Guardian: “We are extremely concerned about the plight of the traders who haven’t been able to trade since March 2020. Our immediate priority is to ascertain from TfL their plans for a temporary market and, most importantly, when it will be up and running.
“Whilst TfL’s hardship fund payments to traders was a welcome intervention, we also need to understand their proposals and timeframes for continuing this much-needed financial support.”
Despite the support, uncertainty remains and not just because of Covid.
Nicholas noted that Transport for London, which owns the land, still needs to carry out substantial work on the buildings to bring it up to date.
Even with the support of Haringey Council, the future is unclear.
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Nicholas said: “What that support actually means, we have to wait and see. Having the council on board is good as previously the council was not with us at all.
“But there’s elections coming up again so you could have one side that is sympathetic and then maybe if there’s a change in leadership we could revert back to where we were.”
What is ultimately clear is that this campaign has always been and will continue to be about people.
Patrick Rey, who works at the money exchange in the market, told MyLondon: “It started as a fight to save the market but it turned out to be a fight for value as a human being.
“To be known as Patrick – not just as a trader, not just someone that’s in the market but as a human being.”
The future of the Latin Village may still be unclear but one thing is certain – they will not be giving up easily.
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