The changing face of Elephant and Castle

by MARINA LEIVA and TIM HELLYER

Around Elephant and Castle shopping centre, warm Latin American accents blend with the cloudy British weather. Adverts in Spanish adorn shop windows, helping those fresh to the area adapt to their new life. Homesickness fades away among the many Latin businesses.

The face of Elephant and Castle has been transformed beyond recognition.  The neighbourhood continues to undergo rapid infrastructural development, which is having an impact on the area’s inhabitants – in particular, the vibrant Latin American community at the Elephant’s heart.

The shopping centre, a run-down behemoth at the area’s core, is to be torn down and replaced.  When this happens, shop owners will have to ply their trade elsewhere.  However, some members of the Latin community fear that these developments will result in them being priced out of the area altogether.

“There is a huge community of Latin American people in Elephant and in Kennington”, says Viviana Mendieta Jimenez, 37, from Ecuador.  “The developers are constructing modern buildings in the Waterloo and Tower Bridge areas, so they can raise the rent and drive us out.”

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Photo by Marina Leiva

Jiménez is one of the many shop owners already noticing the effects.  Her shop, Los Colorados, sells a range of South American products, from cola to mote (boiled corn grains).  The shop has been moved once and is set to move again.

“I’ve been deeply affected by all that is going on,” she said. “My shop used to be inside the shopping centre, but I was forced to find another spot outside because they raised the rent.”  

“The developers want to remodel so landlords can raise the rent and get rid of us.

The price of property has risen in the area.  According to Foxtons Estate Agents, the average house price in Elephant and Castle has seen a marked increase over the past few years, from £380,665 in 2013 to £517,003 in 2017 (an increase of over 35 per cent).

Jiménez said she believes this is the beginning of a push to gentrify Elephant and Castle and bring in more upscale retailers at the expense of the current businesses.  

“I’m going to have to move again, when they start renovating the area. The developers’ aim is to remodel so landlords can raise the rent and get rid of us,” she said.

Patria Román, founding chairwoman of Latin Elephant – an organisation “dedicated to addressing the needs and rights of Latin Americans in London” – highlighted the role Latin American shopkeepers play in the area.

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Photo by Marina Leiva

T“he traders have revitalised Elephant and Castle. It is important to support them during the process, and take into consideration their needs and aspirations, be it relocation, compensation, or coming back to the new development.”

“These shops are part of an entire social network.”

Román writes in a dossier published on the Latin Elephant website: “Latin Americans have transformed the previously derelict spaces on the railway arches and inhabited empty shops in the area, creating in the process a distinctive Latin business cluster in EC.

“These shops are part of an entire social network and support system for many Latin Americans living in London. Economically these shops are important because they provide employment and income for many families in London and contribute to diversify the retail offer in EC.”

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Photo by Tim Hellyer

A spokesman for Delancey, a real estate investment company overseeing the redevelopment, said they planned to support the area’s diversity by retaining local retailers.

“We are working closely with Southwark Council to develop a detailed relocation strategy and fund to ensure existing retailers and other local businesses can continue to trade in the local area when the shopping centre closes,” he said.

“Such initiatives include providing shopping centre tenants and other local businesses with as much notice and information about development plans and timescales as possible.”  

Delancey also plans to appoint an independent business advisor to help the shopping centre’s current tenants plan for the future.    

“A future here for the Latin community is going to be impossible.”

However, the renovation of the shopping centre – while part of the wider rejuvenation of the area – will have an impact on its traders.  

John Parra, 46, from Colombia, is concerned about the future.  While business is going well for his shop, Dr. Juice, and he is hopeful that he will be able to stay in the centre once it is renovated, he is concerned that other businesses will have no option but to leave for good.

“What we think is going to happen is that the rents are going to go up, so that small businesses are not going to be able to afford it,” he said.

“This is very sad, because the Latin community has been here for a very long time.”

“A future here for the Latin community is going to be impossible. People with more money will probably come.  But this always happens when an area is improved.”

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Photo by Tim Hellyer

Featured photo by Tim Hellyer