Business owners who were evicted from a South London shopping centre are still without a home over a year on.
Several traders who ran shops out of Elephant and Castle Shopping Centre say they’re still waiting for suitable new premises over 12 months since the centre closed.
They say developers Delancey, promised to relocate them before the shopping centre was demolished in 2020.
But some are still without suitable premises or say they’re operating from less than perfect buildings.
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They are now demanding that Southwark Council put pressure on Delancey to commit to rehousing all businesses in writing.
Muhammad Raza ran a market stall selling men’s clothing at Elephant and Castle shopping centre for 13 years before being booted out last year.
At the time, the 36-year-old says Southwark Council promised to find him a new home for his business, but over a year later he still hasn’t found suitable premises.
Muhammad, from Newham, was forced to seek part-time work as a security guard to pay for the care of his three young children.
But since the job finished on December 5, the dad-of-three has been stuck at home, worrying about how he is going to pay the bills.
He claims his mental health has plummeted since being evicted and he has had to seek help from doctors.
Meanwhile, he says his emails to Southwark Council pleading for help have gone unanswered.
(Image: Latin Elephant)
He said: “[Southwark Council] told me we will find you a new place around Elephant and Castle and when the time finished they didn’t find any space.
“It has been very difficult. It has been very difficult for my family.
“I’m angry. I have a mental health condition and I’m regularly going to the hospital but it’s all too much stress.
“I would go to a different market and I tried at Lewisham and Deptford markets but they don’t have storage and I need storage.”
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Diana Sach ran Latin American restaurant, La Bodeguita, out of Elephant and Castle shopping centre, but since its closure has had to resort to living off her life savings.
She claims she was offered to relocate nearby, but declined to take the premises after it turned out she was being offered two separate units – one of which had no running water.
The 55-year-old said: “They offered me two units on Ash Avenue but they weren’t connected and they expected me to sort out the building work.
“One of the units had no water or electricity and I would have had to sort that out.
“I’ve not worked for 14 months. We’re waiting and waiting. We’re surviving off our savings.
“When La Bodeguita opened in 1998 it was one of the first restaurants around Elephant and Castle.
“We worked very hard and did lots for the community. I liked the community we used to have. It was something special for Elephant and Castle.”
(Image: Google Street View)
Other traders have accepted premises in nearby Elephant Arcade, but complain their new homes are far worse than what they had at the shopping centre.
Emad Megahed said the unit he now runs his laptop and phone shop, Macroom, out of at the arcade is a third small than the premises he used to have.
The 54-year-old said: “When you relocate from one location to another you lose your customer base.
“They moved me from a 100,000sqft space to a place that’s a third of the size and that’s out of sight.
“Elephant Arcade is very badly designed. It’s derelict garages and it has been designed into an arcade. The only visible businesses are the cafés and the guys who sell juice.”
Elephant and Castle Town Centre, which includes developer Delancey, said: “[Our] team has been relocating and supporting independent traders impacted by the shopping centre closure, and we are pleased to see the number of businesses that have moved to Castle Square, Elephant Arcade and Ash Avenue over the past fifteen months.
“The relocation process involves extensive work to source and fit out new units, and we have worked closely with traders in doing this. Pricebusters and La Bodeguita are no exception; we have been working with them for number of months to ensure their relocations are successful. We have offered Pricebusters additional support for their move to Elephant Park and are working closely with La Bodeguita on their fit out designs for their new prime location on Castle Square.
“Both businesses will become excellent additions to the local community and will help drive footfall to the area. Indeed, we are thrilled that La Bodeguita’s sister café, Coma Y Beba, has been up and running for over a year and has become a popular eatery in Castle Square.
“We have successfully relocated traders and established a new retail destination for the local community”
Councillor Helen Dennis, from Southwark Council, said: “We have been working closely with traders from Elephant and Castle for many years now, pushing for the very best outcome for them. We ensured the developer made new site provision and a £648k relocation fund available for them in its plans, offering up an additional £200,000 in council funding for traders who have yet to find new premises. Even before the pandemic, we knew this would a challenging time for traders, so we employed an independent business advisor who continues to offer ongoing support.
“It’s great to see the majority of eligible businesses successfully relocated or in the final legal discussions about their relocation, meaning they can continue to grow and develop with the area. But today we heard from Pricebusters and La Bodeguita who we know require much more support than is currently on the table. We want to provide reassurance that we will continue to do everything we can to help find a solution, supporting their negotiations with developers and landowners.”