Last week London hosted another protest. But this time wasn’t against austerity, greedy international banks or overpriced tuition fees. This was an attack on a place most us will never have seen or heard of.
The target was a hipster café on Brick Lane that sells novelty breakfast cereals. That’s right – novelty breakfast cereals, something that in my sheltered 17 years of family breakfasts I hadn’t known existed.
The protesters say they are angry about gentrification. What does this really mean?
Gentrification is essentially the ‘revamp’ of deteriorated urban areas by wealthier individuals. Yet this specialist café provides jobs for members of the local community and supports their neighbouring businesses - so I’m not sure it really counts as the kind of gentrification that people are so angry about. It seems more likely that some traditionalists are just afraid of a bizarre new independent business that sells green tea and other nonsense nick-nacks.
‘The Cereal Killer Café’ is like the many other businesses that line the streets of London’s uber-cool Shoreditch: a quirky small business built on a sense of togetherness. So why are people so angry about it that they would attack it?
Brick Lane is at the heart of East London’s diverse community. You would think that residents would rather see self-sufficient cafes and stores rather than yet another Starbucks. One protester even admitted that there were “more justifiable targets than a small independent business” - a business who only wants to see its own livelihood and the community flourish.
I believe gentrification is a term better applied to multi-million pound corporations and businesses as opposed to tiny independent places no one has ever heard of. So what’s the real problem?
Many British people enjoy the safety that comes with eating in familiar high street chain restaurants.
Although Bury St Edmunds is more diverse than many other English towns, there is still room for improvement. We should strive for the same amount of diversity that Brick Lane has. Rather than doubting the quality of independent businesses we should be excited by them and by the prospect of seeing a totally original business next door to an already well established chain.
Recently, our School Council was lucky enough to host a visit from Maria Broadbent of Casa Del Mar – an independent restaurant in Bury. For me, this brought about a sense of connection between our school and the local community, something I think society can only benefit from. We wouldn’t consider this as gentrification. It’s about social progress.
We should be celebrating the integration of independent restaurants, cafes and shops into our society rather than boycotting or protesting against them. We should welcome diversity into our community. Anti-gentrification protests are unwanted here - we value change.
I welcome independent business to Bury St Edmunds with open arms. I want to see them next door to chains.
The protesters on Brick Lane say they “want actual community”. For me, independent retailers create that actual community.
--Grace Edwards is a student at King Edward VI Scool, Bury St Edmunds