Commenting on the future, he said, “I’ve got no plans at all. I never really thought that after being here so long and paying so much rent to the landlord – even if I owed some rent I would have thought that this could have been sorted out in a more amicable way, because it’s not as if I’m refusing to pay.”
“I think what has happened is very unjust, even with my eviction, because I’m running a shop, and regardless of the fact that they might find it legally binding to evict me, at least they could have had a little bit of consideration, a bit of time to take my goods out,” he said. “They actually want to seize my assets, along with my home, because I live here too.”
Hackney Council’s sale of commercial property began in 2001 when it suddenly found it had a £72 million deficit in its finances, and central Government was unwilling to step in to bail them out – in contrast to its recent bail-out of the banks.
This meant that local shopkeepers and other small businesses were no longer able to continue renting their premises from the council. Many were given a month’s notice that their premises were to be auctioned off, including Spirit, whose Nutritious Food Gallery sold fresh produce and Caribbean wares.
Spirit spent six years and around £40,000 making improvements to the building that was his shop and home.
“When I came to Broadway Market in 1993, and up to 1995, this place was like a dead area, and my persistence in continuing running this business and other people coming, the market had developed,” he says.
On the understanding that he could purchase the place for £100,000 by putting down a deposit of £10,000 before it was auctioned off, he did so. However, no-one has been able to uncover exactly what happened next, not even the council’s anti-fraud department.
Whilst Spirit’s cheque was taken, there is no record of any signed contract, and so it has been deemed completely legal that No 71 went to auction and was sold to somebody else for £85,000 – which was £15,000 less than Spirit’s offer.
His cheque was then returned, and he found himself with a new landlord who immediately increased his rent, far higher than those for council-owned properties. However, Spirit is not being evicted for non-payment of rent: “What I’m being evicted for is court costs. When I went to court in 2005 and 2006, I had to represent myself, so the costs of that came back to me,” he explained.
“All I did was apply to the court to request more time to pay by reduced installments, and the judge refused. I don’t like the idea of just giving up my business – I would have loved to have continued.”
Commenting on the market and the future of the area, Spirit said, “Gentrification? It’s no problem to me, I’m a part of it. If the council would allow people like me – people of the community – we would not be driven out.”