Hackney Gazette: Protestors Reclaim Cafe

PROTESTERS occupying a cafe to save it from demolition have rebuilt part of the building destroyed by workmen.

The activists took over Francesca’s in Broadway Market again on Boxing Day after being kicked out by court order five days earlier.

Campaigners initially endured rain and freezing temperatures because part of the roof and back wall had been knocked down while they were locked out.

Members and supporters of the Save Broadway Market Campaign have put up another wall and strung a tarpaulin over new roof beams.

Group spokesman Arthur Shuter told the Gazette that people from the community had come forward to fund the work.

“I want to see the cafe open again for them,” he said. “We will not give in.

“Developers are tearing the community apart,” added Mr Shuter, “but we will fight them all the way.”

Francesca’s had been run for 31 years by Tony Platia until he was evicted last July when his lease ran out.

The cafe is one of a number of properties in the street owned by Dr Roger Wratten.

He would not comment on the row, but a spokesman made a statement on his behalf.

“We’re naturally disappointed at the continuing illegal occupation by the squatters,” he said, “and are reviewing the situation with our lawyers.”

Former Hackney mayor Betty Shanks has joined the campaign by demanding that her official portrait be taken down at the Mare Street town hall in protest at Hackney Council’s role in the dispute.

The 76-year-old, who was mayor in 1985, blames the problems in Broadway Market on the cheap sell-off of public properties by a cash-strapped council in 2000 and 2001.

“I have asked for my picture to be taken down,” said the great-grandmother-of-three, “because of what has happened to Francesca’s.

“The council should buy back Tony’s cafe with a compulsory purchase order,” added the former Labour councillor, “to set the situation right.”

The council says it is “unlikely” it will buy back properties in the street.

In another development, 58-year-old Lowell Grant, the proprietor of another shop in Broadway Market, the Nutritious Food Gallery, is facing eviction by other developers later this month.

Mr Grant, known as Spirit, who has run the shop for 13 years, is also being supported by the protesters. “The axe is now hanging over Spirit as well,” said Mr Shuter, “so we could be doing this all over again.