Last Saturday a number of Hackney residents went to the Narrow Way to protest Hackney Council’s decision to subsidise Hackney Heart; in contrast with their decision to evict Centerprise, a long-established community centre and bookshop in Dalston used primarily by local Black and Minority Ethnic (BME) groups.
The protest was not organised by any group, but by word of mouth following the Hackney Gazette article which exposed Hackney Council’s subsidy of £16,000 over six months to Hackney Heart which insists that it is a not-for-profit venture although we have been unable to find evidence of this, and at this stage it appears that the café is operated by Hackney Jane Ltd, a private company owned by café manager Jane Macintyre (also known as Jane Egginton).
Although the council insist that anyone could have applied to run the space, it is not clear that they advertised the opportunity, and traders in Mare St were surprised to hear that the opportunity would have been available to them.
Murat Selkoui who runs an ailing shop on Mare Street only heard about Hackney Heart opening after having been in discussions with the council about opening a café at his premises in the shop next door. Hackney Heart employs an unpaid intern, but Mr Selkoui would have created real jobs. Questions must be asked about why Hackney Council prefers exploitation to job creation, and why they wish to subsidise a premises that offers no obvious benefit to the community and is in direct competition with established traders who do not enjoy such a subsidy.
Following the protest, an article was published in the Hackney Citizen, wherein Macintyre claims that she has a good relationship with the other traders on Mare St. This is in direct contrast to what several of those traders told protesters, two of whom are members of Digs.
The journalist fails to ask any of the traders for a comment; nor does he speak to protesters or contact campaigners from Centerprise, who continue to fight the council through the courts. He does however give a lengthy paragraph to the council spokesperson, and several paragraphs to Macintyre, who claims that one protester had come in to Hackney Heart afterwards to volunteer to work for free in her shop and to ask if they could put a film night on in there! The last four protesters to leave the demonstration, including our members, say that this is a lie.
Hackney Heart opened last summer as part of the controversial ‘regeneration’ of the Narrow Way, notorious for the council’s press release showing a Mare St populated entirely by young and able-bodied white people.
At the moment no further actions are planned, but we are in contact with Centerprise and several of the individual protesters and will update you if and when we hear of anything. Now that the disturbing story of this huge subsidy has emerged, it’s unlikely to go away.
Digs member Joel Turner, who attended the protest asked “Why is there no money to protect tenants or to support valuable community resources like Centerprise, when there’s enough money to subsidise a middle-class retail experience? Why was this ‘open’ process so secretive that the Council’s subsidy was only revealed by a Freedom of Information request? And what does Hackney Council mean when it talks about ‘regeneration’?”