When I lived in East London in the early 1990s, there was one street above all that seemed beyond hope of improvement or recovery. It was spurned even by its own graffiti, which declared 'Broadway Market is not a sinking ship. It's a submarine.'
Recently, however, the submarine has surfaced. Broadway Market now boasts a new independent book shop, an art gallery, various cafés, craft and bric-a-brac shops, including one that appears to find its niche in 1960s furnishings imported from France and Germany. The stalls in the relaunched Saturday street market offer artisanal bread, Kentish apples, olives and other such provisions to a mixed and multilingual throng, whose members are by no means all clad in inner city hiking boots or Converse trainers. Neither are they all forking out £10, as I found myself doing, for a single piece of Italian cheese.
To the shopkeepers in Broadway Market, the busy Saturday market may no longer seem like a miraculous relief operation. I, however, was astonished by the transformation the first time I saw it. 'Is this real?' I wondered as I wandered among the milling crowds: 'Do these people have any idea where they are?'
Yet the sense of dislocation was my own. The market, as one of its organisers assured me, is certainly not just another 'Farmers Market' of the picturesque variety often used to decorate gentrification schemes. Rooted in local initiative and managed by the Broadway Market Traders and Residents Association, it is run to complement rather than rivalling the local shops and also the much larger street market in nearby Ridley Road.
What takes place here on Saturdays is as much a weekly resistance movement as it is a street market with an alternative, organic air about it. The revival has been achieved by local people against powerful opposition. The first enemy, as so often in these parts, is easily identified as Hackney Council, which, as the organisers claim, first tried to stop the street market happening and then, when it emerged as successful, turned round and attempted to take it over. The second is the developers favoured by the council's officers as they prepared to sell off the street's shops and buildings.
Copyright Patrick Wright 2008
Disclaimer: the views expressed in the copyrighted poems and essays are the views of the author alone, and are not endorsed or otherwise by the BBC or Arts Council in any way whatsoever.
Thank you Patrick. We shall be four years old on May 10. To have someone understand what we are trying to do, and to voice it so eloquently, is just about the best birthday present a mucky-faced East London kid could have.Andy Veitch, Chair, Broadway Market Traders' and Residents' Association.
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