Monday, 3 November 2008

Spirit of Broadway Market

It’s not often you get a Conservative councillor lining up with the Advisory Service for Squatters, the London Coalition Against Poverty, assorted anarchists and a variety of other protesters in support of a Rasta shopkeeper facing eviction by Bahamas-registered property speculators. When the councillor concerned invites you to gather outside the shop to ‘share breakfast [and show] support and solidarity’ on the day that the bailiffs are due to arrive, it’s clear that this is a cause with a wider-than-usual range of local support.

As a Conservative London Assembly member, former Hackney councillor and twice-defeated candidate for Hackney mayor (he’s also failed three times to get the Tory nomination as London mayor), Andrew Boff has his own angle on the eviction of Lowell ‘Spirit’ Grant. But you can’t fault his commitment to the campaign in Spirit’s defence, which saw him mobilising supporters for this morning’s protest breakfast to greet the bailiffs.

Since 1993, when he took over a derelict building on a cheap lease from Hackney council, Spirit has made his home and livelihood at the Nutritious Food Gallery, a Caribbean fresh fish, fruit and veg shop at 71 Broadway Market. When the council decided to sell off the Broadway Market properties in its ownership to property developers a few years ago, Spirit was one of a number of people who stood to lose their shops and homes. The campaign against the sales and the gentrification of the area has involved well-publicised occupations and other protests.

In Spirit’s case, his property was sold at auction – for £15,000 less than he had been prepared to pay for it – two hours after a council official accepted a £10,000 cheque from him as a deposit. Allegations of corruption, made by Andrew Boff and others, led to a formal investigation, which came to no conclusions for lack of any firm evidence. The Bahamas-registered company that bought this and other properties in the area put up the rent by 1200 per cent and then, when Spirit withheld payment in protest (he has since repaid most of it), proceeded to evict him.

The bailiffs were turned away by protesters when they turned up at 9.20 this morning. But Spirit, after years of fighting for his home and business, has agreed to hand in the keys to the property on another occasion. He couldn’t face any more today, and issued a statement to supporters in his absence:

‘Although there is still an enduring determination in me to continue my fight for justice, it has become aware to me that my physical and financial strength will no longer allow me to actively participate in this final act of defiance to keep my beloved property.

From the time I acquired this property back in 1993, it has been a long, hard struggle … At times I have felt completely discriminated against, robbed of my self-worth and dignity and feel as though I am being whipped.

I would like to let you all know that if it was not for the support and strength of the people like yourselves, who have actually given me the determination to physically last until now, particularly the people of Hackney, especially the people of the Broadway Market community who I know are the true defenders of humanity. To you all I give much thanks.

We have tried to keep my home and my shop. However, corrupted forces have prevailed by way of taking it from us for now. My situation at this moment in time is that I have no home and my possessions are scattered all over the city but I still have life and where there is life there is hope. I am very sorry that I am not able to be with you today in person to join in this last act of defiance against this eviction. I feel that this is just too much emotionally for me to witness. I am continually thankful for the support during this distressing time but I ask that your support should only be of peace, love and unity and not to be of any form of violence or intimidation toward the authority ...

I am still fighting the Battle of Broadway along with your continual and much needed support and together we can show the whole of London that we care about our communities and each other and it is what makes us unique and real.’

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