Page 30 - MarketTimesAugust2016
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  Soho traders fight to save Berwick Street from privatisation
  The stalls look good — but Berwick Street market is plagued by demolition and then rebuilding, and what traders consider to be the threat of privatisation
By the end of June the petition had attracted more than 35,000 signatures
 FOR 300 years Berwick Street Market has been at the centre of life in Soho, the area famous around the world as an oasis of colour and creativity in the heart of London.
It was started by the Huguenots, who brought their fabrics to sell alongside the fruit and veg barrow boys in Berwick Street, which runs between Oxford Street and Shaftesbury Avenue.
Fads and fashions came and went. Soho became famous for everything from sex shops to fashion, film, music and all the creative industries.
But the market has remained an anchor of traditional values and community life. Now traders say the future of the market has been thrown into doubt by Westminster City Council’s plan to grant a contract to run the market to a private operator because it is under- performing.
Already 35,000 people have signed a petition to save the market, and Robin Smith, who runs Soho Dairy on the market, said traders were determined to fight their corner.
The market used to be massive, he said. There were 150 stalls or more in two rows along the length of Berwick Street and shoppers had to fight their way through.
What changed things?
Development, according to Robin. A high-rise block, Kemp House, built in the 1970s created a wind tunnel. But the market remained reasonably vibrant until a few years ago when a company called PMB bought the block to demolish and
replace it with a hotel.
The company paid for Berwick
Street to be relaid with cobbles, which took a year, causing major disruption for traders, Robin said.
At the same time demolition work began on the high-rise block. “The noise and disruption has been very bad and the number of stalls has dwindled,” Robin said.
Walker’s Court, once famous as
Robin Smith
the sleazy entrance to Soho, at the Shaftesbury Avenue end of the market, has also been sold for development.
And Westminster Council has sold off units that were used for market storage for more retail development.
“Basically the market is being squeezed out and there is no longer any market infrastructure - it has all been sold off,” Robin said.
“Yet 3,000 people live in Soho and this market has always served the community. Local people need this market.”
And Jeanine Boulter, who lives in Soho, agrees. “We recently moved to live in Soho and these stallholders were the first people we met and got to know,” she said.
“The market is the hub of this community. It is where everyone comes to meet people and have a chat. You can get the essentials.”
As well as Robin’s new business selling milk, cheese and eggs, there is fruit and veg, a couple of long- established flower stalls and some top street food stalls which create a buzz over lunch time.
They serve the mixed community that includes plenty of young people and creative types. Jerusalem Falafel Vegan has long queues every lunchtime. And Elizabeth D Bakes has just won a
contract to supply vegan cakes to Health Foods, a top-end London- based company.
Many street food stalls started on the market about four years ago when there was a push to reinvigorate the market, and several, including Pilgrim Pizzas, have moved on to open their own restaurant.
The privatisation plan could put an end to similar incubations as it could price traders off the market, Robin says.
And his fellow traders agree. Laecia Stannett, who helps on her brother Mark’s stall which was started by their father, Ronnie, said: “Our family has been selling
Market Times • August 2016

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