One of East London's Last Non-Yuppie Markets Could Soon Disappear

The Waste market in Dalston is the last of its kind in an East End that's changed beyond all recognition. Now, its future is uncertain.

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22 December 2014, 4:00pm

The Waste market in Dalston. All images by the author

Stroll down the east side of Kingsland Road between Haggerston and Dalston Junction, and it would be easy not to notice the small cluster of market stalls and vans that line the street. Lying in an area known for its busy weekend markets, Kingsland Market – or The Waste, as locals call it – is a part of the old East End that time seems to have forgotten.

In its halcyon days of the 60s, The Waste was one of the most popular markets in the area. For a mile down the road punters would shop shoulder-to-shoulder, scanning the pitches for under-priced gems and knock-off goods. Every stall would be taken and every good would be sold. "There were traditional elements... and also late-surrealist innovations," the writer Iain Sinclair says in his book on Hackney, Hackney: That Rose-Red Empire. "A stuffed goat mounted on a lawnmower. A drivers helmet filled with goldfish."

Today, even without the bustle and energy it once had, The Waste is still an unmistakably local market; in places cheap and useful, in others scruffy and chaotic with fly-pitchers hustling out of suitcases and anything from cheap sofas to used books up for grabs. It's a place where the traders know the punters and the punters, many from the De Beauvoir estate across the road, know each other.

Now though, after over a hundred years and decades of hard work by the stallholders that still trade there, the future of the market – at least in its current form – appears to be precarious. The story of how and why this is happening, and who is to blame, is a small microcosm of the way London is changing. It's a reminder of what the East End once was and a sad reflection of what it has become.

Last Friday I contacted Hackney Council to find out what their plans for the market were and whether press reports that it was closing were accurate. An hour after emailing I was sent back a generic statement denying any intent to close it and claiming that no change was being forced on those traders that work on "permanent licenses".

"Kingsland Market is not closing," the spokesperson said. "The Council is currently refreshing its markets strategy that will outline its approach to how all Hackney markets will be successfully maintained and managed over the next 5 years. Temporary market licenses are not being renewed for Kingsland Market however, there will be no change to any of the permanent licenses."

The trouble is, as I found out the next morning when I wandered down in the cold to visit the market, that only two of the 12 stallholders that still work at The Waste actually have a permanent trading license.

The story begins a few years earlier when the council started charging the traders for holiday time that had previously been offered for free. Not knowing the council's long-term plan, many of the stallholders – including those that have worked there for up to 40 years – switched from permanent to casual licenses to avoid paying for time they weren't using.

Now they are being told their licenses will not be renewed and, without the same rights they had with permanent contracts, they cannot contest it. With just two stallholders entitled to stay, traders say The Waste is being slowly squeezed to death.

Bourouf Bachir

I spoke to Bourouf Bachir, who has been trading at the market for the past 15 years, commuting in every Saturday from Kent to sell cheap tools to the locals. "This is my living," he told me. "I'm self-employed, I pay my taxes and I've been working here since 1999. I want to carry on working but the council isn't helping, they are driving the market down so that they can shut it."

The traders claim Hackney's council's latest step is part of a long-standing strategy to run down the market and construct a situation in which closing it would be legitimate. For years The Waste has been on the verge of collapse, held back by a lack of investment, a series of rent hikes and the displacement of its usual customers.

Today, there are large gaps between the different pitches, tucked away on a small stretch of the street between Forest Road and Middleton Road. At Bourouf's stall the pavement is so cracked and uneven, it's hard to stay balanced.

"The council has done nothing over the years," Bourouf said, an anxious look on his face. "When I first started here it was a lot cheaper; the rent was only £17, now it's £32. The reason they raised it that high is because they want us out. Look at the state of the floor around us. A lot of people fall near my stall but instead of fixing the pavement they fine me for the size of my pitch."

Anthony Sacco

At the far end of the market, cut off from the other traders, I went to speak to Anthony Sacco, who was busy selling tools out of a black four-by-four. He's been travelling down from Cambridge for the past 35 years and recently shifted to a temporary license to avoid paying for the times the weather is bad or his vehicle is crocked.

Come March – when his license runs out – Anthony will have nowhere to work. "The council have offered me various markets at Ridley Road and Hoxton but I can't sell my commodities at those places," he told me. "That leaves me without an income. I rely on Saturday; it's why I've been here for 35 years. This kind of thing is going on all over London and we're seeing it in all aspects of life whether it's in housing or on the markets."

Many of The Waste's long-standing customers are distraught by what's going. When I tried to speak to Peter, a local man who's been coming to the market for decades he just kept repeating the same words: "It's gone, the market has gone," he said standing at Bourouf's stall, shaking his head and fiddling a hammer compulsively with his hands.

John Monerly

One customer that was willing to speak was John Monerly. He's been visiting The Waste for the past 30 years but only found out that morning that it may be closing. "I was here the day Tony Blair was parachuted in," he told me angrily. "I said: 'if he's a socialist, I'm a Dutchman's uncle' and I wasn't bloody wrong. For poor people this market is a great resource. But as per usual the things being cut are those that harm people that aren't millionaires. What are they going to turn this place into? Some sort of German Christmas market? A farmers market for the genteel coming in?"

While some of the traders fear the market will be closed and turned into parking, others expect it to be replaced and rebranded. The Waste's traders only have to look down the road to Broadway Market – at its German sausages, £9 bottles of olive oil and wildly overpriced vintage crocheted goods – or Northwards towards Stoke Newington Farmers Market, or, indeed, further East towards Chatsworth Road's Sunday market to see the kind of thing that might take its place.

With the threat so tangible, the traders at The Waste are now beginning to get organised. On Saturday both Anthony and Bourouf were handing round a petition, chasing customers and passers-by to sign it. There is plenty of evidence to say they can be successful. For three years campaigners worked to save a small but significant market in Seven Sisters after Haringey Council had given permission for it to be demolished and developed into luxury flats. The same happened to Queens Market in Newham, which the council had planned to turn into residential towers and an Asda before the local community challenged them.

Perhaps the best hope for The Waste lies with the fate of a guy called Harry, one of two traders on the market who still owns a permanent license and won't face eviction in March. He's also the oldest trader remaining, a crotchety local who wouldn't talk to me or let me photograph anything around him unless I agreed to pay.

David Dale

Instead I spoke to one of his helpers, David Dale, a 26-year-old from London Fields. "Harry is a permanent stall-holder, which leaves him in an awkward situation," he told me, reclining back on one of the boss's discount armchairs. "Most of the market traders haven't got a permanent pitch, which means at a certain stage he'll be in a situation where he's here on his own."

Whether a market with one or two traders can be considered a market remains to be seen. What is clear is that spaces like The Waste remain an invaluable part of the cultural fabric of inner-city London, a lifeline for lower-income citizens and a crucial public space for the surrounding area. But it doesn't fit in with the vision of change councils like Hackney seem to have.

On my way home I took a detour through Broadway Market to get a sense of the contrast John Monerly was describing. Complaining about pulled pork and cereal cafes might not be helpful in understanding the causes of gentrification, but walking through the heaving market reminded me that, while London remains spatially mixed, it is still a city divided by class. I decided to do an unscientific straw poll, asking the people I passed whether they'd heard of The Waste, which I described as "a general-goods market just round the corner." Out of the 20 people I asked, just one person – the last I spoke to – knew anything about it.

The council's plan for the market remains unknown and my follow-up questions are yet to be answered. But if the traders are right and the market does close down or change into something else, another big, important slice of the East End will be lost.

@PKleinfeld

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