The closure of the Elephant and Castle shopping centre last Thursday was marked by protest, impassioned speeches and widespread media coverage. The centre closed after 55 years’ service to the local community and is now set to be demolished, to make way for a new retail, leisure and residential complex. Shopping centre owner, Delancey, leads the development partnership behind the new scheme.

While the centre’s major stores had gradually left over the previous months, many of the independent businesses were trading up to the final day. The closure also brought the end for the market which occupied the centre’s ‘moat’, which numbered around 60 stalls just under 2 years ago when Southwark’s planning committee first considered developer Delancey’s proposals for the centre’s redevelopment.

Only 40 traders have been relocated to three sites – Castle Square, Perronet House and Elephant Park – ‘leaving about 40 traders who have been trading at least since January 2019 (as per the s106 agreement) without alternative premises’. A major aim now of the traders and their supporters is to secure space that could double the number of relocated traders, with a proposal to the Mayor for new market stalls at the Elephant.

Up the Elephant solidarity

A large protest organised by the Up the Elephant campaign (which includes the 35% Campaign) marked the centre’s closure and commemorated the people who had worked there, many from for black and ethnic minorities, and its role as a social hub for the Latin American community in particular. The campaign has long fought against the demolition and Delancey’s redevelopment plans and while the centre’s fate was lamented, speakers also noted the gains that the campaign had made - more social housing, affordable retail space as well as new premises for some displaced traders, along with transition and relocation funding.

What the Papers say…

There was extensive press and media coverage of the closure and protest, including articles on the SE1 website, Southwark News, South London Press, South West Londoner, Morning Star, The Guardian (and here), the Justice Gap, Vice and the Spanish language Express News UK (and here) and the BBC’s Drivetime with Eddie Nestor.

Amongst the comments from protest speakers highlighted in SE1 website were those from Patria Roman of Latin Elephant, a mainstay of the campaign, and trader Emad Megahed.

Patria expressed her sadness at the closure of the shopping centre but noted that campaigning efforts had yielded improvements in the support provided by developers and the council to local traders.

‘I am incredibly proud of all we achieved,’ she said.

‘If today we can say that some traders have been relocated, it is because the campaigners fought fiercely. Everything they have is because campaigners fought for it. Nothing came for free.’

Emad said - ‘I am so proud of my community. I am proud that my community stuck together – whatever nationality … we all speak the same language, the language of love, and sticking together as one. That’s the lesson we want to teach our kids.’

The Guardian noted ‘the shadow of decades of underinvestment’

and commented-

‘rarely has a managed decline been so obvious, or so long-winded’

adding-

‘you don’t need to love the shopping centre as it is right now (or at all), or worry about what happens after its demolition to the meeting places, public spaces and social bonds it offers, …. to raise questions about who must leave and who can stay, when the developers arrive in town’.

Southwark News also covers the rebuttal of Southwark Council and Delancey claims that nearly all traders have been satisfactorily relocated. It quotes Latin Elephant, which has profiled those turned down for new premises or unable to find appropriate space, and who say-

‘Our research has been widely documented, and it was carried out independently with an effort to enforce transparency and accountability. This has been discussed several times with Southwark Council and Delancey. It is unacceptable to see the closure of the Shopping Centre with many traders still without relocation, so we will continue our advocacy work in a constructive way to support the local community.’

The Mayor responds to traders’ proposal

A day before the centre’s closure Mayor Sadiq Khan responded to the traders’ proposal for new market stalls to accommodate traders who have not been allocated new premises.

Southwark News and The South London Press highlighted the response. The Mayor, quoted in the SLP, says ‘It is disappointing that a number of small businesses still don’t have the certainty they need….in general I would welcome any workable solution that would provide these businesses with the space they need to trade’ while cautioning that the traders’ proposal ‘would be subject to various planning and licensing consents’ making it ‘not appropriate’ to comment on the specific plans being presented.

The traders’ proposal is supported by Florence Eshalomi MP, London Assembly member for Lambeth and Southwark, local councillor Maria Linforth-Hall and London Assembly members Caroline Pidgeon and Sian Berry, the Green Party candidate for Mayor. The Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party Constituency Party also passed a motion in support of the traders’ Proposal at their meeting last week.

The traders and their supporters will now be building on this support to get new market stalls and kiosks for those traders without new premises and repair some of the damage done to their businesses and livelihoods, by the centre closure.