Traders in Hackney branded a local pop-up café “yuppie scum” last weekend, as they protested against the rent subsidies it is receiving from the council.
The Hackney Heart on the Narrow Way, which has an art gallery attached, is operating rent- and business rate-free, as part of Hackney Council’s regeneration plans for the area.
Local protestors staged a sit-in at the entrance to the café last Saturday, claiming that it benefits from an unfair advantage in an area where businesses face massive rate increases.
Jane MacIntyre, Hackney Heart’s manager, said: “No one from the sit-in came to talk to me, they just called me ‘yuppie scum’, white and middle class, and this was said by someone who was obviously white and middle class themselves.”
Elizabeth Owens, from CRF Charity Shop on the same street, said: “I absolutely don’t agree with the protesters and their campaign. Jane invited them inside to have a chat and they refused and started swearing.”
A man who asked to be identified as Richard Price, who was involved in the six-person protest, claimed that the gathering was peaceful and was not meant to be a personal attack against MacIntyre.
He said: “The situation of the matter is that we’re not against Hackney Heart, the situation is that we’re against a cloudy, foggy allocation process of money. Nobody seems to be aware of when this money [to subsidise the rent] was made available, how it was made available and by what process it was made available.”
After the controversial protest, Hackney Council posted on its website an explanation of the process by which Hackney Heart took over the empty shop.
It emphasised that Hackney Heart is a not for profit enterprise. It explained that the funding was procured from a government grant that the Council has used to regenerate high streets, not from Hackney Council taxpayers’ money.
McIntyre said that she is not competing with area traders, many of whom are her friends.
She said: “I am just filling a venue. I have to leave if another business wants to rent it.”
“I opened in September, planning to stay here until December, but nobody wanted to move in so I’m able to stay here,” she continued.
“This is a community space, a venue that people can use with no charge for a lot of activities like art events and workshops.”
“When I opened I didn’t have a business plan because it’s not what it’s all about: I had to fill an empty shop quickly, because when a venue remains unoccupied it may have a huge impact on the other traders.”
Price said that he feels Hackney Heart may have received preferential treatment because “[Hackney Heart] fits into what the council wants. Hackney council wants to gentrify the area. It’s as simple as that.”
Andrew Sissons, head of regeneration delivery at Hackney Council said: “Hackney Heart was an empty shop. If we leave places like this, very quickly they become betting shops, pawn brokers, payday loan places.”
“We wanted to show that there is an alternative story, to improve this street in a long term.”
“Jane was the only person who came forward and volunteered to do that,” he added. “She does this voluntarily; we pay for the lease.”
Hackney Heart will host an open day on February 14, when members of the community can ask any questions they may have about the shop.