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The Latin Market Is Saved

August 8, 2021
by the gentle author

In celebration of the news that the Latin market in Seven Sisters is saved and the redevelopment plans abandoned thanks to the scale of the protest organised by the traders, I publish Sarah Ainslie‘s portraits of the heroic protagonists in this long-running drama.

We take inspiration from this victory for our campaign to Save Brick Lane, by stopping the Truman Brewery’s development proposal for a shopping mall with corporate offices and instead replace it with a community-led masterplan for the entire brewery site.

Fabian Alberto

Saturday nights at the Latin Market above the station in Seven Sisters are legendary, celebrated for the exuberant crowds, the variety of delicious food, the salsa dancing and the live music. This astonishing labyrinth of shops and booths built into a former department store is almost hidden from the street, yet you only have to walk through the frontage to discover yourself in Latin America. Here you can get a meal or a haircut, find a flat or a job, change money, buy fresh food and get your nails done, all under one roof.

Originally set up by small traders of South American origin, it now includes, Africans, Iranians and many others. Here in N15 – London’s most racially diverse postcode – the market is sometimes referred to as the United States of Tottenham. It is open to all and despite the best efforts of developers to close it down for the past fifteen years, a tenacious campaign to save it has ensured that the market flourishes against the odds.

Fabian & Aleyda Alberto Catano Casavid, Restaurant Manantial

Fabian – “I was badly injured in the London bombings of 7/7. A year later I came to this market and met Don Alvaro who said to me, ‘I am selling half of my butcher’s shop, take it and do what you like with it – this will help you overcome your depression and stress.’ So I bought it with my compensation money from the bombing and I started to sell food because I always liked food and I had learnt to be a cook in Colombia.  Now I have been here for sixteen years. I still get panic attacks every so often but this business has been a tonic for me. I have now had seven operations but working here distracts me from all that. It is my home! I arrive here at seven in the morning and leave at eight at night. This small restaurant is everything for me.

The market administration were trying to get rid of some the traders so they took away my licence claiming I did not pay my rent. I took them to court and it was established I had paid. Then they claimed they took it away because I did not pay for electricity. I usually paid around £140 a month but then they increased it to £900 a month. I used to pay £70 a month for gas and then they increased that to £400. I have suffered a lot of discrimination from the management. This market is very important because a lot of vulnerable people can find a refuge here. People arrive here from South America without food or anywhere to live but we can solve their problems because we are all family.”

Paula Andrea Alvarez Martinez, Genesis Money Transfer

“I am from a village called Anserna Caldas in Colombia, where I grew up on the family farm that belonged to my father and his father before him. We kept cattle and grew coffee. But the story of my family is tragic because most of those on my father’s side have been assassinated, my uncles, my grandfather and my father. A feud arose with another family and the killings began. I witnessed this violence in my childhood and all these losses became too much for us but nobody wanted to leave. When things got really tough in 1992 my father came to London. He did unskilled labour, cleaning and washing dishes, before returning to Colombia after a year.

At that time, there were a lot of problems with armed guerrillas and they kidnapped my elderly grandmother, but my father confronted them and took her back. He became a hero, featured in newspapers, but from that moment he became a target and the threats began. It was very difficult time for our family. My younger brother was in London and he sought asylum. The day my father was killed, I was away on a school excursion and my cousin’s boyfriend arrived at half past ten. I knew something had happened but I never imagined my father was dead. Our lives changed. We became separated. I was eighteen years old and I went to live with my aunt in Bogota. I worked and studied psychology. After sixteen years, I met my current husband who is British and three years ago I came to London.”

Juan Carlos Alvarez, Don Carlo Restaurant

“I was one of the first traders in this market eighteen years ago. We were looking for a place for the Colombian community. My first business here was the car wash outside, then I sold the car wash and opened a restaurant. Always I have been around this market and my children have grown up in it – both of them are at university now. I am working to pay for their fees.

When I started it was crazy because some people were using the units for prostitution and drug dealing and nobody else dared enter, yet slowly it got better. I am disappointed because it used to be cleaner and more secure but recently it has been run down by the management. They wanted to turn it into a dump so they could justify knocking it down. They wanted to emphasise the negative. After three o’clock, a lot of parents come with their kids and all of us we look after them. Anyone that arrives from South America, they know this place and we can help them. I work with local schools who bring children to try South American food and they learn about another culture, without even leaving Tottenham.”

Vicky Alvarez Martinez, El Cafetal Services

“I started working here nineteen years ago. The reason was that I was a single mother with a daughter, divorced from my ex-husband. It was so difficult financially for me to work and earn enough to pay the bills. My friend told me that there was a unit to let in the Latin Market but I did not have any money so I went to the bank for a loan. I thought it would suit me because I could take care of my daughter at the same time as working and earning money. When my daughter finished school each day, she would came here and play around in the market.

At first, I brought merchandise from Colombia like silver and Colombian jeans for women. I was also working part-time somewhere else then, so when I finished I picked my daughter up from school and we came and opened up here. We were only three or four traders then but slowly the community started to come and the need of everybody else became our needs. That has been the real achievement – it is not what we sell, it is not what we do it, it is the community we have created. People come here with problems and we understand because we have been through the same struggles. In the beginning, it was the Colombian community and then people from all over Latin America and then people from all over the world. Now it is a market for everybody.”

Ben Sanday Nyerende, Property Services

“I come from Uganda and I have been trading in this market since 2006. I came to Britain in 2002 because there were so many difficulties in my country and circumstances forced me to leave. This village is for everyone and there is a vibrant community here. Everyone is very helpful here and we found it easy to integrate and work with them. It feels a million miles from Africa but it makes a real difference for a person like me who comes from far away, to mix up with these good people. I started up as an estate agent in the market, we manage and rent properties, and I am one of the few that will work with vulnerable people living on benefits. People that other agencies reject, we take them. My customers all come through this market and they are from all parts of the community.

As traders, we used to have a sympathetic management in the market but things changed. The new management drove away our customers and affected our livelihoods, by saying they were going to knock down the building in adverts all over Tottenham. They would not fix anything, they permitted the property to be vandalised. This was their way to drive us out but this building brings everyone together, so many people from different cultural backgrounds. The whole building has free parking but the management gave out parking tickets and drive customers away. They created their own company to make money out of this, pounding us with penalties. I received a parking ticket in the mail for a time when I was not parked here. There was nowhere to buy a ticket but they fined you for not having one. The whole system was scrambled! People were scared and living in a fearful manner, but I was not scared – they will have to take me out of here with a bulldozer.”

Farhad Zarei, City News

“I have been here in this market since 2002, running a general store selling housewares and doing key cutting. I bought the shop which had already been running for twenty-five years.  Since then, the market has become busier and my business has grown, so I was able to expand into the next unit two years ago. The South American people have brought a lot of business. It is a very important place for me because I have been here twenty years and all my life is working in this market.”

Corina – “I came to this market fourteen and a half years ago, I had a friend who ran this shop before me, selling clothes. I started bringing her clothes from my country, Romania. I was a single mother with two children and no access to benefits, so I had to do something. My son was seven months and my daughter was three. I got a loan from the bank and imported clothes from Romania to sell in Finsbury Park. But then I met a girl who ran this shop and she brought me here. At first, I used to clean the shop and change the clothes on the mannequins. This way my English improved. Then I bought the business and took it over.

Now I run a beauty parlour and this is how I support myself and my children. I studied to be a beautician twenty-nine years ago in Romania and eight years ago I decided to change from doing something I did not like to this. The certificates I had from Romania were not recognised here because technology has changed the profession. So I started to study again. I thought, “I’m old, I have two children and I have to work, so I cannot study” – but I did, and I won an award for excellence in 2015.”

Ari – “I learnt to be a barber in the Dominican Republic and I came to London via Madrid. I have been cutting men’s hair in my sister’s shop in this market for six years and built the business up. I get on with my customers very well and I enjoy cutting hair and barbering. This market is an important meeting place for Latinos.”

Fernando – “In 2004, I started here with a small grocery shop but now I have a butcher, a baker, a cafe and I sell Colombian spirits. We have special events at the weekend, people come to dance and sing. It is a family event, people bring their children and everybody dances. This market is very important for our community because it is the only one of its kind in this country. It is a meeting point for people from Latin America and Africa. I want to stay here but I do not know what will happen to us in the future, they were saying we may have to move to another location. Nothing is clear.”

Nixon and Dago, baker and butcher

Catherine – “Me and my husband, we opened this shop here six years ago selling Colombian groceries. This is how we make our living. I run the business and order all the stock from a distributor in Spain. I want to extend the range of products that I sell and I hope to open a tapas bar one day.”

Pablo – “I came here eight years ago when I had the opportunity to buy this cafe, before that I sublet half a unit from the Colombian bakery. I never had a mother to take care of me, I learnt to cook for myself out of necessity when I was eight years old. We were four brothers and sisters without a mother or a father, and I was working at nine years old shining shoes and selling cigarettes in the street in Colombia. At thirteen, I emigrated to Venezuela and then to Spain. Now I am here in London. The majority of my customers are Latin Americans, they work hard supporting their families by doing cleaning.”

Pablo with his son Christopher and Ana

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

20 Responses leave one →
  1. Herry Lawford permalink
    August 8, 2021


  2. John Price permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Amazing stories, enterprising people. Thanks as ever.

  3. Eve permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Super effort of support & great news for the community.. a triumph!
    Take heart Brick Lane stay strong.

  4. Jill Wilson permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Great news for what looks like a very special and vibrant place! So glad that the community has won against the developers for a change (I wonder what soulless ghastliness they had in mind…)

    An inspiration to help Save Brick Lane!

  5. Annie Green permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Great news!

  6. Jeremy Rogers permalink
    August 8, 2021

    I am so pleased that something positive is finally happening for these wonderful traders in Wards Corner. TfL, or their agents, have behaved shockingly badly over many years and one wonders how many more small traders in London are being treated in a similarly bad way? These people who create communities and societal wealth should be valued.

  7. August 8, 2021

    Wonderful news! Best wishes to all at the Latin market and may they continue to thrive

  8. August 8, 2021


    Love & Peace

  9. Joanne Gourlay permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Such good news, that such a great an important place has been saved. May it flourish! Now for Brick Lane….

  10. Glyn Roberts permalink
    August 8, 2021

    What a heartwarming story from this community.

  11. Richard Smith permalink
    August 8, 2021

    What a vibrant and happy group of people. Good luck to them in their endeavour and may their God be with them.

  12. August 8, 2021

    What WONDERFUL photographs!

  13. Sarah Ainslie permalink
    August 8, 2021

    Well done to Latin Market for staying so strong and never giving up, this is a truly wonderful place.
    Good luck with TFL and the Greater London Authority.

  14. Paul Loften permalink
    August 8, 2021

    This building has always been sought by developers. I can recall a previous mini shopping mall years ago that had banners outside and they are still after it . I am talking about over 30 years ago . They don’t give up.
    I have always wondered how Seven Sisters Road got its name. I read once there was a house there with seven sisters . I wonder who they were? A blue and white plaque there would be very appropriate being Spurs territory

  15. August 8, 2021

    “Now it is a market for everybody.” This quote from one of these magnificent entrepreneurs says it all.

    Great cities become even greater when all people are given the opportunity to express themselves — and the outcome is vibrant, unique, and distinctive.

    Thank you for this inspiring post and fantastic photos by Sarah Ainslie. As always, you both have taken us on an uplifting optimistic journey.

    Onward and upward.

  16. Mary permalink
    August 8, 2021

    A triumphant outcome! The personal battles and hardships that many of these brave traders have had to endure through their lives would be enough for anyone, but then to have to continue fighting with the greedy, grasping management company beggars belief.
    What an amazing community – good luck to every one of them!

  17. mlaiuppa permalink
    August 8, 2021

    It’s wonderful to hear about a successful save.

    Now what is happening with the bell foundry and the mulberry tree?

  18. August 8, 2021

    This is great news. I hope the landlords behave with decency after this verdict.

  19. Ann V permalink
    August 9, 2021

    What brilliant news! These wonderful people who obviously care about other people deserve to have succeeded. Well done to them all!

  20. September 4, 2021

    The difference always matters, like a collage all the participants bring their vision to a place.

    First news of this came from St Ann’s Regeneration Trust with the following :-

    St Ann’s Regeneration Trust – – itself based in L.B. Haringey have also proceeded in the manner of the Bow community for St Clements buildings and their development. There ought to be solidarity and recognition for such initiatives, Peter Eversden MBE is perhaps a contact ? With kind regards, Colin.

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