Many areas of London are shaped by immigrant cultures. But walking past, say, the curry houses of Brick Lane, you still feel grounded in London — it's London's spin on Indian culture. That's what makes Seven Sisters' indoor market so individual; on the other side of those doors, you find yourself truly transported to Colombia.
The market and its tight-knit community are now under threat; Haringey Council has targeted the area for regeneration, and, after some planning wrangling, in 2012 passed an application from Grainger to build a new market as part of the wider development of the area.
In 2016 a Compulsory Purchase Order was issued to acquire the land the market is on. The council says current businesses will be relocated across the road while they rebuild the centre, then re-homed once the work is finished. Skeptics wryly remark the artist's impressions of the development feature high street names rather than the local businesses.
We've walked by Wards Corner after getting off the tube at Seven Sisters before, oblivious to the fact there's a market mere metres away. Its small entrances are crammed between shops. This makes it all the more ridiculous that one Tottenham councillor called the market "an eyesore". How can something which most don't bat an eyelid at be cause so much aesthetic discomfort?
Just around the corner from the market is West Green Road. Here, a poster advertises a council scheme to improve independent shopfronts. It feels a contrast to see this trumpeted a 60-second walk away from market traders who are concerned about their future.
Pueblito Paisa is one of the only businesses visible from the street outside. It's a lovely café, where we tuck into traditional Colombian hot chocolate (sweet with plenty of cinnamon), empanadas and arepas (sweetcorn cakes). It's all rather no-frills, like the market itself, but tasty nonetheless.
For many who work and frequent the market, Spanish is the primary language. We'd foreseen this as a potential issue and brought along a mate who was near enough-fluent to translate. Even then, chatting to people isn't easy.
It's understandable. There's a palpable tension in the air; you'd feel the same if the workplace you'd built up over a number of years was in such uncertain times. We persevere, and find a few friendly characters who talk to us over the music of reggaeton legend Nicky Jam, playing throughout the village.
Daniel is a butcher in the market. He deftly switches between (what our translator assures us is) perfect Spanish, to traditional gruff north London English. He's worked at the market for 11 years now, saying that's nothing compared to the people who've been here for over 20. Does Daniel feel the community could win the battle to save the market in its current state? He feels positive about the upcoming hearing, noting their strength in numbers as their key.
But such optimism doesn't permeate the village. Chan runs a clothing stall and is one of the market's longest-standing tenants. "At the end of the day, money talks," she says. It's a harsh truth. Most of these stalls live on a month-to-month existence, and while many have been here for years, others come and go. This turnover in businesses is a serious problem; Chan claims only businesses that were in the market prior to 2005 are guaranteed to be re-homed in the new centre.
Haringey says otherwise, that the developer is in discussions with all current traders to re-home them, and that there are 'specific provisions' made for everyone who was trading at the time of the planning application in 2012. As is typical in such issues, this will come as news to some in the market, where rumour and hearsay mean there's still confusion about what's happening.
The phrase 'money talks' does bring up the community's attempt to fight back. Many of the vendors formed the Wards Corner Community Coalition, which is how they managed to defeat the council in 2010. They've set up a page where donations can be made to help get legal representation to challenge the CPO. At the time of writing they've raised over £9,000, showing just how much the market means to so many.
Even though half full on a Wednesday, the market's unique character shines through. Organised chaos is in the air, with kids playing in the narrow hallways, and stairs above restaurants that lead to tiny second floors. Seemingly random beams of wood hang overhead; we're left with a sneaking suspicion that the whole market is an ingeniously constructed Jenga tower. Everything fits perfectly in its place, but it's so close to toppling.
Just as we're about to leave, we look up and notice the walls are plastered with colourful drawings by children. Each has a common theme: save our market. They're a heart-wrenching reminder that this place is a second home for a large community. A plethora of marketing superlatives have been used to describe the proposed replacement market; but we doubt anyone will ever call it home.
Update: This article originally missed a key part of the planning process before the CPO was issued — we've updated it to make this clear.
Cllr Alan Strickland, Haringey Council cabinet member for housing, regeneration and planning, responded to this article: “We have exciting plans for Seven Sisters. This area is the gateway to Tottenham and we’re committed to transforming it into a focal point for the community, including quality retail space and nearly 200 new homes.
"Ensuring there is a long-term Seven Sisters market is central to our plans, which is why we’ve arranged a package of measures including financial assistances to help traders relocate to the new market. Together with the developer, Grainger, we’re meeting with existing traders to discuss relocation to the improved Seven Sisters Market."
Read more about the market's plight and how London's Latin Americans are facing the brunt of gentrification.