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Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre Was a Vital London Food Hub. Then, Developers Shut It Down.

Developer Delancey and the Labour-led Southwark Council will displace traders serving the area’s Latinx community, despite the efforts of advocacy group Latin Elephant

Elephant and Castle shopping centre’s demolition will affect community traders, like Sundial, whose frontage is shown here
Sundial Cafe, which will be demolished
Tomas Jivanda

Developer Delancey shut down Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre on 24 September, two years after the Labour-led Southwark Council voted four-to-three in favour of its demolition. While some of the 25 food businesses that stood to be displaced by the decision have been relocated within the area after advocacy from Latin Elephant, several food businesses have already closed, or are being forced out of the community that they have fed for decades.

The developer and Southwark Council have made much of two new developments when citing traders’ ability to relocate: Elephant Park, and Castle Square. Of the 18 food businesses either inside, or on the edge of Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre, six have been relocated to those two developments: Ecuadorian family-style specialists Miko’s and El Guambra; Fay Gomes’ outstanding Guyanese stall, Kaieteur Kitchen; Diana Sachs and family’s Colombian institution La Bodeguita; Jamaican mainstay Original Caribbean Spice; and Oliajide Agbede’s Daddy O’s Suya Spot. Black Cowboy Coffee, known for John Otagburuagu’s old-school espresso and Liege waffles, has relocated to Elephant Arcade, on the ground floor of Perronet House to the northwest of the roundabout.

That leaves 11 which are either yet to be relocated or have already been displaced. 1970s-shot-and-chaser cafe Jenny’s is due to join its contemporaries at Castle Square but does not yet have space; Thai-Spanish Kubolonia, Jamaican stalwart Kay’s Kitchen, first-floor hub Cafe Nova Interchange, and British-Indian institution Castle Tandoori have already been forced to shut down; and Sundial Cafe, The Elephant, Halal Factory, Castle Brasserie, Tai Tip Mein, and, uh, Gregg’s are yet to find firm footing for the future or to be offered new premises.

Community groups like Latin Elephant, Up the Elephant, and Southwark Notes have long sought to challenge Delancey and Southwark Council’s narrative about the lack of affordable space allocated to displaced traders. Following a joint statement from the developer and council which referred to “various uncorroborated statistics that have been published through social and other online media” and claimed that 61 of 79 traders had engaged with relocation processes correctly, Latin Elephant released its own statement detailing its research into displaced traders:

Our research indicates that to this day around 40 existing small independent traders will no longer be trading the area, as a result of the redevelopment. Detailed information on the specific circumstances of each trader can be found here.

In their joint public statement, Delancey and Southwark Council are saying that all qualifying traders have been relocated. Despite this Southwark Council’s website, last updated in August 2020 and accessed on 18 September 2020, acknowledges that “there are 33 eligible traders remaining.

A later part of Delancey and Southwark Council’s statement referred to the timescale of the “regeneration,” which will cost £4 billion, and include a total of 1,353 new flats, 330 of which will be “affordable rent”. It also includes the already built Sainsbury’s supermarket, new leisure centre, and the Elephant Park development to which some of the shopping centre’s traders have relocated:

“The delivery of a new Town Centre has been over 20 years in the planning, with a significant majority consensus in favour throughout. Nevertheless, any transition of this scale presents significant challenges, not least around the disruption caused to existing traders and residents as the changes take place.”

The contours of “majority consensus” and “disruption caused to existing residents” are at the heart of the anger around the demolition of a hub that has provided food, clothes, and social and legal assistance to a predominantly working class, BAME, and Latinx community for decades, in an area where house prices have risen by 76 percent in the last decade as new builds in the area price out the communities that need the shopping centre most. The demolition of the shopping centre doesn’t just directly impact the businesses inside it. The panoptic outstanding restaurants in and around the railway arches also under threat of redevelopment, and the cafe culture that has grown alongside it will suffer from the loss of its magnetic pull; its necessity. Southwark Council calls the plans transformational and beneficial. But for whom?

Some traders, like Gomes at Kaieteur Kitchen, see relocation as a chance to restart their personal businesses, but temper this with the feeling of losing their “usual” location and all that comes with it. Even for some of the food businesses able to reopen in new spaces close by to their original locations, the ineluctable relationship between power and place in the London restaurant world is on full display.