Wednesday, 21 November 2012

The importance of shopping local

The East End Trades Guild
Inaugural Meeting

I love my life in London, for so many reasons, but every now and then stories from the lives of others stops me in my tracks.  So it was on Monday evening when I attended an event which reinforced my commitment to shopping independent and local.

I was proud to bear witness to the inaugural meeting of the East End Trades Guild (EETG).  The very first guilds were characterised by their binding oaths sworn among artisans to support one another in adversity and back one another in feuds or in business ventures.  On Monday some 200 independent traders from the East End and the City formalised their own Guild. The guilds of the 1400s tended to be specific to a craft and here EETG differs in being an organisation made up of a disparate group of traders - cafe owners, book sellers, shoe repairers, newsagents, butchers, bakers, fishmongers, - the businesses that make up a typical High Street.  Except in this case there is a paper bag trader and a Ukulele seller, which may not be quite your average mix.

So, why had they decided to come together.  The EETG banner - designed by a trade member and printed by another member - makes their statement: "We are the beating heart of the East End" and their motif makes clear its intent "Together we are stronger".  The members of this Guild are the people who serve their communities, often they are the glue that holds them together, and they are under attack.  Of course they are battling the invidious creep of the supermarkets but rent rises and bureaucracy are threatening their survival too.

The event at Christ Church Spitalfields was a time for celebration. Photographs, a short film, and music lent a slightly euphoric air to the proceedings.  The speeches were heartfelt; Dairyman Henry Jones whose family had served Londoners for 135 years; Nevio Pellicci of E Pellicci's cafe whose Italian ancestors set up the cafe in 1900; Shanaz Khan of restaurant Chaat in Bethnal Green who was a passionate and eloquent voice of the members; and then there was Paul Gardner  of Gardners' Market Sundriesmen fourth generation supplier of essential paper bags to local businesses.  His fight against a rent rise which would have put him out of business was the seed, planted by organiser Krissie Nicolson, for the formation of the EETG.  

Then, as so often happens at gatherings, we all milled together to eat and drink.  A Brick Lane beigel, some curried potatoes, a hunk of cheddar cheese with bread, fruit, cakes and ale, all supplied by members of the Guild.  Then the serious talk began.  The revitalisation of East London comes at a price in the form of rent rises for the existing traders and early pioneers.  Clearly this is top of the agenda for most members, but they are also battling bureaucracy.  I spoke to a fishmonger about the parking charges he now faces when bringing his fish from Billingsgate;  the parking nightmare for his customers as they fight for the handful of spaces; the charge he has to pay for Council rubbish bags and the fine he'd had to pay because the last sack of rubbish wouldn't fit in the over-full Council bin.  Then there were his Kafkaesque discussions with the Council after a nearby bus stop was extended to accommodate the soon to be decommissioned 'bendy-buses', and the consequent parking fines he'd incurred for unloading outside his shop.

So, when you're chasing after the next shiny new thing, and I'm as likely to do that as anyone, remember your local, independent  traders.  They are the beating heart of your city.

The EETG seeks "to keep the streets of the east end vibrant and diverse, and to demonstrate the cultural, social and economic significance of independents in the East End."  07910 966738

Spitalfields Life  - The Founding of the East End Trades Guild