Declaration of Independents

Traders still the beating heart of east end for small business Saturday
All in this together: members of the East End Traders’ Guild. Photos below by: Colin O’Brien and Sarah Ainslie

A weekend fry-up at E. Pellicci on Bethnal Green Road is an East End tradition. But those stumbling in this Saturday in search of a full English to soak up their sins from the night before might have to wait for one of the Formica tables, as the legendary café has taken a reservation from a very important guest.

Sadiq Khan will join members of the East End Trades Guild (EETG) for breakfast on 3 December to kick off the group’s first ever East End Independents’ Day. Traders all over East London will be holding special events, activities, talks and tours to showcase independent businesses and their contribution to the area’s local character.

The Mayor of London agreed to begin what will likely be a jammed-packed Small Business Saturday at the greasy spoon after an impassioned appeal from the guild’s founder Krissie Nicolson. “We sent a video inviting Sadiq to breakfast via Twitter but when we didn’t get a response we weren’t about to just sit around and do nothing,” Krissie says of the decision to front up at the Mayor’s Question Time in Brent last month.

One gets the sense, even after the briefest of conversations with Krissie, that she’s not an easy person to say ‘no’ to. The local resident and mother of one founded the EETG in 2012 after learning of the possible closure of one of Spitalfields’ oldest traders.

Paper bag supplier Gardners Market Sundriesmen had been operating out of its Commercial Street premises for more than 140 years, but a staggering rent increase looked set to put fourth-generation owner Paul Gardner out of business.

It’s a story that was becoming all too familiar in the East End; the independent traders that had made the area so popular were being forced out of it. “I was studying a masters of community organising at the time, and I came across Gardners’ story on [local blog] Spitalfields Life,” Krissie says. “They were able to get enough support to compel the landlord to agree to a more gradual rent increase but, having lived in Hackney for 20 years, I saw how other residents and businesses were being pushed out.”

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Urban Species. Photo: Patricia Niven

“Paul introduced me to other traders in the area and in developing a network of small business we discovered they were all facing the same issues. They wanted to work together to build an organisation that harnesses collective action for the protection of their interests.”

Four years later and EETG is a fully-fledged trade association with more than 150 members. Krissie was made the EETG’s director in July following a crowdfunding campaign to support East End Independents’ Day; a concept she says was entirely the work of the members.

“Juliette Tuke from Milagros in Columbia Road, Rick Mast from Mast Brothers on Redchurch Street – everybody came together to make this happen,” Krissie says. “We’ve had people from all sectors uniting to support each other in what is a difficult time post-Brexit vote, and I think that process of working together is just as important as the outcome.”

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Juliette Tuke from Milagros. Photo: Sarah Ainslie.

Local tour operators and EETG members Alternative London will lead walking tours of East London’s most popular shopping hubs, including Columbia Road, Brick Lane and Spitalfields, as well as through Hackney, London Fields and Mile End.

An exploration of Shoreditch and Spitalfields will stop in on local traders C.E Burns & Sons, Gardeners Bags, Dragana Perisic and Urban Species, while Columbia Road’s Making & Doing Tour will showcase the area’s craft credentials. A more foodie-focused tour of Broadway Market and Well Street will take in hotspots 4Cose, F Cooke, Fin and Flounder, Oliver Rowe and Five Points brewery, finishing off with Christmas pudding at Deli Downstairs.

There will be a series of surprise pop up events in the lead up to the day, but the real action begins – as anything should – with a decent breakfast. Krissie is hoping the Mayor’s appearance will be the beginning of a strong “constructive” relationship.

“Sadiq is very pro-business, and we are all confident he will do what he can to help traders. We want to make sure his partnerships are with a diverse representation of businesses, and not just the big ones. “We’re hoping to discuss some of the issues facing our members and come up with some solutions to protect the heart of the East End.”

East End Independents’ Day is on 3 December throughout East London.

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