Anyone familiar with the area of Seven Sisters in Tottenham has probably come across Seven Sisters Market. From the outside, asides from Pueblito Paisa Cafe, you would be forgiven for walking past, not realising what’s inside. Behind the doors lies another world. Seven Sisters Market is the biggest Latin American market in the UK – you’ll find cuisine from Colombia and other regions of Central and South America, along with traditional Latin American produce and a large Spanish and Portugese speaking community. The market has been there for many years and some of the residents, traders and shop owners have had a difficult past – some are political refugees and some have fled from threats on their lives in South America.
DT first visited the market in 2016 and was shown around by Mirca Morera, whose dad owns a DVD shop in the market called Video Mania (stocking South American novella series and films). He has now had his shop in the market for six years. Back then, there were about 60 units in use, most of the vendors being South American but some originating from places including Iran, Uganda and Nigeria.
The campaign to stop Seven Sisters Market, also known as Wards Corner and Pueblito Paisa, from demolition has hit national news over the last few years, even getting the attention of the United Nations in 2017. UN experts have said that the plans to demolish the market would have a ‘deleterious effect on the dynamic cultural life of the diverse people in the area.’
Grainger PLC, who have been buying up land and freeholds to the surrounding buildings over the last decade, put in a CPO (a Compulsary Purchase Order which allows certain bodies to purchase land without the consent of the owner) with Haringey Council for the site a few years ago. Some local residents, shop owners in the surrounding area, Wards Corner Community Coalition (looking at it from a heritage standpoint – the market was originally a department store opened in the Edwardian era by the Ward brothers) and market traders have been fighting this. There was a long and detailed hearing and it was recently announced that the CPO has been approved. Community groups are now working on an appeal against the decision.
Over the years, part of the building has been neglected, but that hasn’t stopped many people from setting up businesses in part of the market, including hair and nail shops, money transfer services, internet cafes, DVD shops, clothes, hot food and produce.
Grainger plans to give market traders a discounted rental rate in a new replacement market and rehouse them in a temporary market on the Apex House site, moving them back when the new market is finished, but some fear they would not be able to cope with the move.
In 2008 Mayor of London at the time, Boris Johnson, visited Seven Sisters Market. As part of the London Plan, he implemented the section 106 agreement which is meant to help protect small business owners (Article published in 2008 in Building magazine: ‘The London Plan is to be updated to include a policy enabling planners to use section 106 agreements to require the inclusion of small, affordable shop units in retail development.’)
There is also a community plan, which received planning permission in 2014 (this has since lapsed) which aims to restore and revive the building – considered to have heritage and cultural value – rather than demolish it. The market has even caught the attention of Turner prize nominated, Colombian artist Oscar Murillo who wrote to Haringey Council to express his interest in taking over the lease (it is said he has £6million to spend on the restoration of the market and Wards Corner). TfL currently own the freehold for the building.
Local menswear designer, Martine Rose, who featured in our Fashion & Beauty issue, put on a fashion show in the market to showcase her AW17 collection. On her shows in Seven Sisters Market and Stronghold Climbing Centre (in Tottenham Hale): ‘Small business people working hard in their corner should be celebrated and both these places welcomed me and my ideas and I’ll always be grateful.’
In 2018, DT spoke to some of the market traders and campaigners who told us their stories and about their connections to Seven Sisters Market.
We spoke to Vicky Alvarez who has been campaigning to protect the market from redevelopment for the last 10 years. Originally a political refugee from Colombia, she runs a money transfer business, El Cafetal, with her husband and also a beauty salon. Her brother runs a restaurant in the market called Don Carlos and is working to teach local children about healthy eating with a focus on Colombian and Mediterranean cuisine.
Vicky’s family own a coffee plantation in Colombia and the name El Cafetal comes from the coffee region. She explained that her grandfather taught her family that it was important to grow organic and sustainable food.
She arrived in Tottenham 17 years ago, as a single mother with her daughter, and told us that she finds the area to be generous and friendly. Vicky explained she now feels very at home because of the mixture of different cultures. When she first arrived, after a traumatic experience in her homeland, she said reinventing herself in the UK was very difficult, but within the market she found the ingredients to be successful.
Vicky was one of the first Latin American traders to come to the market 17 years ago and has seen the market evolve over time. She told us that the traders have put in a lot of effort to make their own units look nicer and more appealing. She explained that the market means everything to her and she sees it as her home from home – it helped to provide the stability she was looking for when she first arrived in the UK. ‘Everything I have achieved, I owe to the market.’
She wants others who visit to find a warm and welcoming place with a strong support network. She said it’s not just a place to earn money. She sees it as a community centre and feels a responsibility to keep it that way.
Vicky told us that the last 10 years have felt like a constant battle and market traders have had limited resources (one of the reasons why they started a crowdfunder campaign). She would like fair treatment for the market traders and feels that the businesses will suffer if they are to move locations. She sees the market as the heart and soul of the community and wants it to be protected and looked after.
Mirca Morera was born and raised in Tottenham and is half Peruvian, half Ecuadorian. She told us Wards Corner has a rich history. She explained that she would like to see the community plan implemented and prevent the market from being demolished. She wants the market traders to be treated fairly and equally and would like to protect the market and its future.
Mirca wants to encourage new visitors to the market as well as the current community that uses it and used to run meetup groups, open to everyone, on a Saturday evening. She enjoys the strong community and the interactions within the market and doesn’t want to see a clone of another town centre – she feels it’s important to keep the diversity and character of Tottenham and the market. Mirca set up the website Save Latin Village. She also set up Latin Corner CIC to support children of some of the market traders. She takes them to football training at the Spurs ground, provides educational books, games and arts and crafts in her dad’s shop and has taken the children on trips, including one to the Bruce Castle Museum archives to research the history of Wards Corner.
Pam Isherwood is a member of Wards Corner Community Coalition (WCCC) which was set up in 2007 in opposition to Grainger’s first application for planning permission to demolish the market (which was initially blocked). She told us about the history of Wards Corner and the department store, which opened in Edwardian times and closed around the time that Seven Sisters underground station opened beneath it in the 70s. The larger corner building has remained empty since the department store closed.
Pam explained that WCCC worked alongside other local community groups and commissioned an architect, putting in a planning application for the community plan which aims to renovate and restore the original building. The planning application was approved in 2014, but has since lapsed. At the time we met, Pam was feeling positive about the campaign and was hoping they would win against the CPO. The community plan now needs to be updated to include housing, as well as the market, in line with the area plan put together by Haringey Council.
Pam explained that WCCC believe that moving the market to the temporary market on the Apex House site, and back into a new market would destroy it. She told us that the community have a sense of ownership of the market. She said that over the years it’s evolved into a community hub and an important resource for children and teenagers. She wants to see the human rights of the community who use the market protected.
Other traders we spoke to had mixed feelings about the plans for the market. Some said they would take whatever comes their way as an opportunity to improve their businesses, having had to learn to adapt to many situations over the years. Others feared that the move would be the end of their small businesses and that they wouldn’t be able to survive an inevitable hike in rents, despite the discount offered by Grainger.
Pueblito Paisa Cafe – article originally appeared in DT Food & Drink issue:
Pueblito Paisa Cafe, at the very front of Seven Sisters Market, began as a tiny Colombian bakery on Holloway Road in north London. In 2004 they had outgrown the space and decided to move into Seven Sisters Market. When they moved in all they had was a bain-marie. They gradually expanded and built a mezzanine to hold a Colombian bakery and opened a kitchen. Lita Kawajigashi, who originally moved to London from Peru in the mid 80s, runs the cafe along with her son and daughter. They are supported by a dedicated team of chefs, bakers, and waitstaff. The cafe has a large Colombian menu, available daily, with 29 main dishes including Churrasco Argentino (steak), Bandeja Paisa (a traditional mixed meat dish from Colombia) and Dorada (sea bream). You can also fill up on empanadas and homemade chilli sauce for £1 each. Last May  they hired a new chef who specialises in Peruvian cuisine which is available Thursday to Sunday. They describe the dishes as humble food and try to provide the best quality for the lowest price. You can also grab a cheap coffee or try a Peruvian cocktail (Pisco Sour) or beer (Cusqueña).
We spoke to Maria who runs Linda’s Boutique and has been based in the market for 17 years. She originally ran the shop, with her now deceased husband, as a Spanish video club and people would rent videos and DVDs. She later switched to selling clothing which she said is in the typical style of Latina women – she explained how the focus was on small waists and curvier bums and busts. She said that she felt the future of the market was uncertain but was hoping for the best for the market and the traders.
Another trader Fabian told us about his restaurant, Manantial, the name originating from the bible meaning fresh water and nature. He serves Colombian, South American and Mediterranean food. He is a political refugee from Colombia and had to leave as his life was in danger. He moved to London to start a new life and was unfortunately on the tube during the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. He showed us a tattoo on his leg that he got to cover up the scar from the shrapnel. Fabian explained that to him the market is a safe space, and has helped him to face his mental health issues caused by the trauma in his past. He said that the market means everything to him and it’s a special place for Latinos and their families, but also enjoys welcoming people from other cultures to his restaurant.
One of the hair salons in the market, Hollywood, is run by Lisbeth Pacheco, originally from Venezuela. We spoke to her 19 year old daughter, Viviana Da Silva, who also acted as translator. Born to a Venezuelan mother and a Portuguese father, Viviana explained that her family first moved to London in 2002 and have always lived in Tottenham. The family left Venezuela due to the high levels of crime and poverty. There were a lot of thefts and many dangerous and violent gangs were operating where they lived.
Lisbeth said that over the years she’s seen numerous small businesses open in Seven Sisters Market. There were originally just two hair salons and now there are many. Lisbeth built the shop, which has a mezzanine level, with the help of Viviana’s grandmother. Viviana explained that she would like to see improvements made to the existing market to attract more customers for the benefit of the community. She is against the demolition of the market if it means that the community have nowhere to go. Lisbeth feels that the community spirit would be lost if they are forced to move.
Many children of the market traders have grown up visiting the market, often spending time there after school. Viviana, who was four when her parents moved to London, said she feels that being in the market gives her a flavour of what it must be like in her home country.
Viviana told stories of her childhood, remembering how she used to run around the market with another young girl, putting things from shop shelves into her toy buggy. She wants her 10 year old brother to experience the same memories she had growing up, explaining that children are free to play in the market in between stalls and shops. Her favourite thing about the market is when the traders put out food, for a yearly celebration, and it’s shared between everyone giving her a taste of home.
What’s next for the market?
The community are currently working on appealing the CPO decision and, according to the Haringey Council website, a hearing in the High Court will take place on 8 and 9 October 2019.