The Rise of the East End Trades Guild
Founding members Paul Gardner, Leila McAlister, Shanaz Khan and Fiona Atkins sign the constitution of the East End Trades Guild on the counter at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen
Since the launch of the East End Trades Guild last November, members have been busy behind the scenes forming an interim board and creating a legal constitution. Yet in parallel to this process of securing the foundations that will enable the Guild to speak as the authoritative voice for all proprietor-owned-and-run-businesses in the East End, there have been some notable successes which culminated in a meeting at Westminster this week.
A survey of the two hundred East End Trades Guild members by the New Economics Foundation revealed that collectively they represent a turnover of £77 million and employ twelve hundred people, of which almost all live locally. Additionally, Guild members contribute £17 million in wages to the local economy and pay £1.3 million in business rates. These figures contradict the assumption that small businesses are less significant financially than larger businesses, when in Tower Hamlets small businesses are the greater part of the economy. And it was not long before local government, in the form of Lutfur Rahman, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, recognised the political significance of the Guild, and requested to come and meet the members, visiting some of their businesses in February to hear members’ concerns directly.
The first tangible indication of the power of the East End Trades Guild came early in the year when shopkeepers in Whitechapel, including London Trimmings and M & G Hardware based in the Cambridge Heath Rd, were able to bargain collectively through the Guild to win compensation from Crossrail for loss of trade during the extended building works for the new rail link.
Another notable victory was in the resolution of the situation with Les Bobrow, who has been trading from a shop in Spitalfield Market for a decade with his business Wood N’ Things yet Ballymore, the owners of the building, wanted to evict him to replace him with a chainstore. After pressure from the Guild, Ballymore relented. “I cannot thank you enough for all your hard work in helping me to achieve what seemed an impossible task in securing a new lease.” admitted Les, “I realise there were many other people involved in helping me to achieve my goal whether they be members of the EETG or the general public, and public figures in prominent positions at local government level. Without your help in creating EETG to act on my behalf, I’m convinced I could not have taken on Ballymore by myself and secured a new lease.”
As an outcome of this debacle, the reluctance of Balllymore to negotiate or have dialogue with small businesses was addressed this week with a meeting in Westminster hosted by Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green & Bow. Members of the East End Trades Guild led by Shanaz Khan, Acting Chair, met John Turner, Ballymore’s Head of Planning and Gareth Keating, Ballymore’s Director of Asset Management, across a table in Portcullis House on Wednesday.
Although Ballymore have now sold the Spitalfields Market for £105 million, to set against their £800 million debt, they remain heavily involved in the vast new developments proposed for the site of the former Bishopsgate Goods Yard and it was this which formed the substance of the debate. While Ballymore made a profit on the sale of the Spitalfields Market based upon the increase in property value, their policy of leasing the shops to chains and their corporate management of the stallholders has reduced the footfall in recent years and sucked the life out of the market, with the notable exception of Thursday’s antiques market.
Challenging this shortcoming, Shanaz Khan, on behalf of the Guild, advocated the value of small independent businesses, not least as the primary reason why people come to the East End. She requested that Ballymore enter into a dialogue with the Guild about the Bishopsgate Goodsyard developments – something that could be beneficial to both parties, permitting Ballymore the opportunity to work in partnership with local businesses and creating the possibility that the new developments could have an integral relationship with the existing markets and small trades, and not simply introduce shopping malls filled with more chains into the East End. John Turner referred the Guild to Ballymore’s existing “community consultation” and invited them to take part in that. But when a Guild member pointed out that they had attended the consultation meeting for local businesses and no-one else had turned up, it became apparent that there was a widespread public mistrust of Ballymore, and the sincerity of their consultation process was questioned.
At this point, Rushanara Ali, who had followed the discussion closely, spoke up passionately. “People say to me, ‘What is it with your constituency? How come you have the highest level of child poverty alongside the highest rate of economic development.” she declared, directing her words at the Ballymore developers, “And you guys are right at the heart of it!” Growing up in Tower Hamlets, Rushanara has seen decades of economic development, starting with Canary Wharf, that has achieved little improvement in the quality of life for East Enders. Recalling the heroic yet doomed campaign to prevent Ballymore redeveloping the Spitalfields Market, she issued them with a challenge. “Tower Hamlets is a highly politicised borough” she asserted, recognising that no-one wants to see a repeat of the conflicts that characterised the Market development, “and these people are offering you a chance to work with them.”
“It’s going to be different this time,” claimed John Turner, advocating the merits of his expensively-conceived community-style consultation. “That’s what you said last time,” retorted Rushanara Ali in frustration, “Ballymore has created a lot of bad feeling and unhappiness in Tower Hamlets.” Chastened and recognising that they were not going to be let off the hook, Ballymore agreed to regular direct meetings with the East End Trades Guild with the date of first meeting set in July.
The East End Trades Guild has discovered a powerful ally in Rushanara Ali – who wants developers to face their responsibilities to residents and enrich the local economy, not simply grab land for their own ends. “I recognise you work under constraints,” she conceded to Ballymore, “but you need to meet these people part-way.”
Elected Mayor of Tower Hamlets, Lutfur Rahman, congratulates Paul Gardner of Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen on founding the East End Trades Guild.
At Westminster, members of the Guild with Shanaz Khan, Acting Chair, shaking hands with John Turner of Ballymore, in the presence of Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green & Bow, initiating a new dialogue between local traders and large-scale developers.
Shanaz Khan, Acting Chair of East End Trades Guild and proprietor of Chaat Tea House in Redchurch St.
The Founding of the East End Trades Guild at Christ Church, Spitalfields, last November.
Founding photograph copyright © Martin Usborne
Westminster photographs copyright © Jeremy Freedman
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