A bridge to home: Activists pursue online guerrilla tactics to save much-loved community store amidst COVID-19
Nour Cash and Carry has never been just a corner shop. Rather, for over 20 years it has stood as a cornerstone of Brixton market, embodying the ethos shared by many of its surrounding vendors: to provide affordable food for Brixton’s local community.
However, this essential service has recently come under threat from Hondo Enterprises, who purchased the freehold of the market back in 2018 for £37.25 million. While promising to maintain the markets ‘unique character’, the company has issued a section 25 eviction notice to the business, which supplies 90% of the surrounding restaurants with ingredients and provides needed footfall to other vendors, stating they must vacate the premises by July 22nd.
This injustice has not gone unnoticed however. The ‘Save Nour’ campaign, bringing activists from different groups under one umbrella, has been persistently lobbying on behalf of Nour, catching the attention of various celebrities and news outlets for both their commendable campaign and the innovative ways in which they are campaigning.
This innovation was of course necessitated by COVID-19. Just as Hondo Enterprises decided to pursue the eviction notice despite social distance measures meaning Salam Shaheen and his family could not seek consultation, Save Nour decided not to let coronavirus become a barrier to their aims either. “Originally we had wanted to hold public meetings and bring those accountable down to Brixton” organiser Hiba Ahmad tells me over the phone, “but this of course became impossible”. Instead they created an incredible video outlying the importance of Nour to its community and undertook some “light stalking” of their social media she says laughingly, to discover who Taylor Mcwilliams, the owner of Hondo Enterprises, is as a person.
And, as it turns out, Taylor Mcwilliams is known for a lot more than property development. He’s actually a house DJ, part of the collective Housekeeping, and uses this platform to support his image as an ethical musician who belongs to Brixton’s cultural scene. McWilliams has previously posted about ‘saving’ Brixton’s cultural institution club 414, despite kicking out its original owners back in 2018 alongside the eviction of 30 artists from their studio spaces in Brixton village. This isn’t the company’s first instance of whitewashing however, as Hondo and Mcwilliam’s both came under fire back in 2016 after installing ‘poor doors’ on one of their properties in Aldgate East. As McWilliam’s has managed to retain his public image despite these dealings, Save Nour decided to redirect the campaign towards this public face, hoping to educate Mcwilliam’s fans on his less than PR friendly side hustle. This led them to, on April 25th, crashing a live Zoom gig Mcwilliams was performing to over a thousand people in collaboration with Ibiza club Pacha, including performances from high profile DJs Felix, Da Housecat and Pete Tong. Hiba tells me: “we prepared these videos to have on loop while the other DJs were on so we weren’t disrupting any of them, but when Taylor’s set came on we switched to our actual cameras and had masks on and held up signs.” These read phrases such as: “Evicting food suppliers during a global pandemic? Cruel Brixton gentrifiers” and “Taylor, you party while your tenants suffer. Halt evictions in Brixton Market Now!”. This, combined with the streams of messaging on both the Zoom chat and Facebook meant that the group were constantly evicted from the chat, but not before many of his fans took note and Mcwilliams himself “went off screen for a while looking a little confused”.
Save Nour never expected that this act would garner so much attention, however since the Zoom infiltration tweets and Instagram posts in support of Nour have been pouring in from actor Pearl Mackie, Chef Jackson Boxer and DJs including: greentea Peng, Haai, Midland, Will Bankjead, Joy Orbison, Oneman, OK Williams, Éclair Fifi, Om Unit and more. The online music broadcasting platform Boiler Room also called for a boycott of Housekeeping. As Hiba states this kind of support is invaluable as:
“We’ve been amplified by other industry voices which is amazing because these are the voices that he actually respects, I don’t think he respects local people or activists, he respects people that he sees as peers, and to him we are not peers, we are trash”.
This media attention caused Hondo Enterprises to send a message to Dazedwho covered the online activism stating that: “We are not carrying out any evictions at this time.” However, Hiba assures me that Nour has not yet received a notice that their eviction has been revoked. Save Nour have continued to target McWilliam’s, twitter-bombing the launch of Housekeeping’s new EP. More than 90 people replied to this, causing Housekeeping to message individuals and distance themselves from McWilliams stating that “none of us are in any way involved in Hondo”. This statement flies in direct contradiction to public financial records that Save Nour has uncovered which shows that thousands of pounds of interest free loans had been given to Housekeeping by Hondo. Upon publishing these records on Save Nour’s instagram page McWilliams’ DJ Collective disappeared from Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, they have since resurfaced, albeit in a diminished form. They are also no longer mentioned on the website of their management company, A-list Management. Furthermore, upon contacting UKPN, the power company which Hondo had blamed for locating the new power generator on the site of Nour, the activist group discovered that it is ultimately the customer’s decision where a new electricity supply will be located, meaning that Mcwilliam’s defense for closing Nour as necessary to provide power to the market, is in fact false.
Hiba believes Hondo’s decision surrounding power generator placement had nothing to do with prime logistics, rather that: “the fact that they’re targeting Nour, the biggest most successful shop on the market, serving over 1000 visitors a day, they’re just signalling that this is happening no matter what.” This bleeds into Save Nour’s wider point, that while their short term goal is very clear, they are in fact an organisation who are standing against the gentrification of the entirety of Brixton, and ultimately a process that is being replicated in areas of London and beyond. It has been five years since the anti-gentrification protests in Brixton and yet there’s been little visible reversal. Instead, as Hiba states:
“They’re trying to make Brixton into this place where people go and party and that’s it. Your right to create a family here to have a peaceful life is not accounted for, your right to exist as a person of colour isn’t accounted for when all the places you would go to are being planned out of existence.”
And it is this sentiment that lies at the crux of the Save Nour campaign, a place which acts as more than a cornershop but as a space which enables the right to exist and live as people and families of color. For many of those living in Brixton who are unable to visit families abroad due to financial or visa constraints Nour provides a chance to connect to that which is physically unattainable: home. As Hiba states: “That’s the role that Nour and a lot of these vendors have had for a long time, these shops provide an important bridge to home, something which is invaluable in our everyday lives”.