Broadway Market café occupation - updates and background

Updates and background information about local residents' occupation of Francesca's Café in Broadway Market in Hackney, East London.

The Cafe was seized to prevent its demolition and conversion into luxury flats by property developer Dr Roger Wratten.

Updates and stories on libcom.org news

27 Mar: The battle of Broadway Market, from Hackney Independent
4 Mar: Dalston Occupation update
27 Feb: Demonstrate at Hackney Town Hall at 7pm. Information here
26 Feb: Evicted - but it's not over yet!
23 Feb: Broadway Market evicted at 4.30am
14 Jan: Broadway Market - second eviction threat
28 Dec: Broadway Market cafe re-taken by residents
21 Dec: Occupied café evicted
11 Dec: Broadway Market occupation - two weeks on feature.
6 Dec: Broadway Market Hackney: Café occupation news piece
1 Dec: Broadway Market Hackney: Café occupation initial news story
28 Nov: Builders turn up to demolish, local people prevent the demolition then occupy the café

Background to the occupation
The occupation of Café Francesca in Broadway Market, East London, prior to perhaps its final eviction on 23 February has been occupied for nearly three months by local people to prevent its demolition by property developer Dr Roger Wratten and conversion into luxury flats.

The occupation has received widespread press coverage and overwhelming local support. Hundreds of people have visited the café, many bringing food, furniture and donations, scores of people worked on the shift rota to keep the occupation running and local residents associations have passed resolutions in favour of the occupation with offers of practical support. The Guardian, Evening Standard and others have all carried features.

Tony, Spirit and the Bahamas
Tony Platia, who has run Francesca's for 30 years, isn't the only person in Broadway Market who has faced this treatment. Spirit, from the Nutritious Food Gallery, 74 Broadway Market, handed a cheque for a deposit on his shop to estate agents Nelson Bakewell on the day it was being auctioned off by Hackney Council, and at the end of the day discovered it had been sold to Bahamas based "Broadway Investments Hackney" for £15,000 less than he'd offered. Little Georgia, part of the first wave of gentrification on the street, was recently priced out by Wratten and replaced one week later by a French bistro.

Gentrification
Broadway Market, and Hackney in general, is at the sharp end of privatisation and gentrification in London. It is likely to have six privately run "City Academy" schools within the next couple of years, out of a total of only two hundred across the UK. Nearby Laburnum primary school was closed recently and will be replaced by a City Academy in 2006, to be sponsored and run by Swiss investment bank UBS. UBS also sponsors Hidden Art Hackney, which happens to have a significant presence in Broadway Market and has contributed to its redevelopment in terms of providing studio and retail space to 'designer makers' and developing the Saturday 'Farmers Style Market'.

As Londoners prepare for a heavy council tax bill to pay for the Olympics, which will be focused above all on Hackney, Haggerston Pool, five minutes walk from Francesca's, and Clissold Leisure centre in Stoke Newington remain closed. East Marsh, part of historic Hackney Marshes and a major centre for Sunday football will be turned into a car park for 2012. It's unlikely that the Olympics will provide significant improvements for people living in Hackney and the other affected boroughs, but developers and the construction industry stand to make a killing.

Implications

The corruption and sell offs on Broadway Market and the rapid gentrification of inner cities around the UK is one of the most visible signs of the continuing decomposition of the working class under New Labour. Along with the mass sell-offs of council housing, highest ever levels of consumer debt, casualisation at work, the pensions crisis and many more symptoms of recent capitalist development, this constitutes a sustained and continuing attack on our living and working conditions which may lead to many more stories like Francesca's.

The occupation on Broadway Market provides a glimpse of the potential for resistance against the encroachment of capital and commodity society on our public space and free time. Although a handful of experienced political activists are involved, the overwhelming majority of people drinking tea each day in Francesca's "haven't done anything like this before" (letter to Hackney Gazette, Thursday 9th December).

Although highly localised and borne out of the daily experience of life for people in and around Broadway Market, the occupation has been extremely visible in both local and national media and mobilised the support of hundreds of people in the area. Although the fate of Tony Platia's café seems sealed, the relationships and experiences that have developed through this occupation could lead to a political climate in Hackney which can continue to resist the process of gentrification and social exclusion which is likely to accelerate as 2012 approaches.

As struggles like this circulate around the country and internationally, it points towards the potential for a society where people have taken control of their lives collectively, with human need being at the basis of organisation rather than 'market forces'.