The founder of the anarchist group behind the recent anti-gentrification protest targeting Brick Lane’s Cereal Killer Cafe, has said his group will continue to focus on the UK’s independent businesses.
There has been much made of the incident which saw the cafe targeted with paint bombs and graffiti – the two brothers who run the business charge up to £4.40 for bowls of more than 120 different types of cereal.
Many agree with the protestors’ sentiment – taking a stand against rising rents in London and exploitative property developers and landlords, feeling communities are being damaged as a result, many forced out as investors leave newly bought properties empty.
It did though, seem a strange target for their anger.
It’s not the first time, the cafe has been singled out for such problems. A Channel 4 interview with the brothers, Alan and Gary Keery, back in December 2014 stoked headlines after the reporter broached the topic of setting up such a business charging the prices it did in Tower Hamlets, one of London’s poorest boroughs. Child poverty in the area had reached 49 per cent in 2014, a rise from 42 per cent the year before.
Unprepared for such a question, the brothers promptly called for an end to the interview and a tranche of media coverage cropped up as a result. Even more resulted after Gary Keery penned an open letter to Channel 4, where he said “you obviously don’t understand business if you think I don’t have to put a mark-up on what I sell”.
He mentioned still having to pay “over-the-top rent” for his premises, while saying “maybe if I charged more than £3 for a coffee and dodged all the taxes in this country like some cafes – the reporters would leave me alone”.
As many have flagged up, the issue of gentrification is a complex one, but targeting the small firms that move in is hardly going to solve the problem.
Ian Bone, the founder of Class War, the group behind the F**k Parade event in Shoreditch, however, rejected that they were directing their anger towards the wrong people, simply due to his belief that going after chains, parliament or the City wouldn’t have raised any attention.
The publicity the Cereal Killer Cafe incident received meant he’d continue to focus on other independent businesses at future protests.
“They’re going to take place all around Britain. I’m going up to Scotland now to talk to some people in Glasgow and Edinburgh about possible ones there,” he said. “We’d be mad to go for Pret a Manger and Foxtons. A broken window at Foxtons isn’t going to get any publicity at all, whereas we’ve seen what happens with independent shops. We’d be stupid not to.”
The movement developed from ten months of demonstrations outside 1 Commercial Street, a recent block of luxury flats, which garnered publicity for having a separate entrance for those living in its affordable and social apartments, dubbed the “poor door”.
From Bone’s perspective, the aim is to return to areas which have “already been gentrified and start taking the fight back to them”.
Dr Lisa McKenzie, a research fellow at the London School of Economics, said the Keery brothers were “milking” the situation effectively. While she didn’t condone “smashing things up”, the academic said she understood why people in the area were frustrated.
“The Cereal cafe have made great economic capital over the past few days through media. They have worked hard to keep this story in the media,” she argued. “The protest itself was about social cleansing. They stayed at the cafe for ten minutes. I’m absolutely disgusted by the media – they only want to talk about cornflakes.”
While the protestors may press that the event was about gentrification in East London rather than a specific cafe, repeatedly targeting small businesses is arguably not the best way to get this message across. Not to mention, a flurry of similar activity may actually have the opposite effect and lose impact, rather than increase it.
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