Brixton food pillar Nour Cash and Carry will continue its two decades serving the local community in Brixton Market, after signing a “secure, long term lease” with landlord Hondo Enterprises. In a statement posted to Twitter on Friday, campaign group Save Nour Save Brixton said: “After weeks of pressure, Nour’s place in Brixton has finally been secured for many, many years to come.” It later told Eater that “Our strenuous opposition to them moving units was because the new unit a) wasn’t built b) was smaller c) was expensive and d) had a short lease. The new offer is a long secure lease at an affordable rent and a bigger unit and they now do not have to move until it is ready for them! So they are very happy and we stand down accordingly.”
Nour later told Brixton Blog that:
“This agreement will mean Hondo can continue to invest in Market Row, starting with installing a new power substation in our current space that will power and breathe new life by supporting all 50 traders for years to come.”
Hondo served the beloved food shop with an eviction notice in January this year, despite its long term status as a grocery hub for Brixton’s Caribbean and West African communities. With the date set for 22 July, an initial petition from Nour owners the Shaheen family developed into a full-blown community campaign, coalescing around the conditions of the novel coronavirus pandemic and Hondo Enterprises’ given reasons and motives for the eviction.
Nour was not covered by the government’s lease forfeiture moratorium for tenants affected by COVID-19: it continued to pay rent and, thereby, pay money to Hondo Enterprises. Nothing about the eviction was illegal. But its timing stoked already burning fires about Hondo Enterprises’ attitude to the shop, Brixton Market, and Brixton as a whole; the question of evicting a business during a pandemic was moral, not economic. This increased the intensity of virtual protests, including the crashing of a gig hosted on video conferencing platform Zoom by Hondo Enterprises’ owner Taylor McWilliams. Protesters signed in to the gig holding signs against the eviction, as reported by Dazed.
Further protests focussed on a secondary development plan for the market: a 20 story high-rise at the Pope’s Road site that includes sports retail chain Sports Direct and its subsidiary high-end designer clothing store Flannels. Such a building would loom over many of the market’s long-time pitches, and the statement of community involvement features CGI of a proposed food hall space, and “mixed” environment. As pointed out by Save Nour, it features one image with a token Jamaican flag tacked on top, in an area that has long been a vital hub for the Jamaican community, and read as an indictment of Hondo’s attitude to the community whose future it would irrevocably change by evicting Nour. The shop stocks affordable Caribbean and West African staples like cassava, yam, saltfish, and ackee, none of which are available in the U.K.’s main supermarkets and all of which are vital to the Caribbean and West African communities in the area.
Then, in early June, Save Nour cast doubt on Hondo’s given reason for the eviction. Hondo had repeatedly based its need to evict Nour on the need to install a new electricity substation, to provide a stable power supply for the market. It said it was acting on advice from U.K. Power Networks (UKPN), which assists businesses in ensuring they have sufficient electrical capacity to operate. Lambeth councillors and UKPN refuted this necessity, hingeing on the difference between Nour’s unit being the “only suitable” site and the “most suitable” site. Hondo Enterprises said it was the former; UKPN said it was the latter. The discrepancy appeared to contradict Hondo Enterprises’s continued claims that the location of the substation in Nour’s unit was not in its control, which had been its justification for continuing the removal of Nour.
While Hondo Enterprises always claimed it was in “positive discussions” to retain Nour’s place in the market, the strength of feeling over both the shop’s place in the community and Hondo’s attitude comes having seen this before. The eviction of local delis, fishmongers, and grocers on Atlantic Road by Lambeth Council and Network Rail in 2016 is long in the memory. Nour itself was served with a 22 percent rent rise in 2012 by previous landlord In Shops Retail, which backed down after a community response similar to that against Hondo now; the gentrification of Brixton served as a springboard for now large, successful chains like Franco Manca and Honest Burgers, while attendant increasing rents led established businesses to close. Hondo’s previous purchase of local nightlife institution Club 414 — whose owners, Louise Barron and Tony Pommell were forced out — had already created an atmosphere of distrust, and a resistance to further remapping of Brixton’s contours by the unchecked desires of developers. The saving of Nour, and the campaign to achieve it, suggests that that distrust has found a strong, long-term voice.