“These small business owners — it’s these people that are the currency.”

“These small business owners — it’s these people that are the currency.”

A walk along Dalston’s Ridley Road Market with Kollier Din-Bangura to talk keeping the faith and what black entrepreneurs can teach the world about true value

4 minute read /
Text and Photography by Rosanna Vitiello

Ridley Road has been the beating heart of Dalston since the 1880s — and between the 150 shops and market stalls that line it you can meet and trade goods from the world over. But the recent eviction notice given to the small traders in Ridley Road Shopping Village highlighted how real estate is valued over real people, and the heavy hand of regeneration in shifting social dynamics. So how can we show how much this community is worth? Taking a walk after our interview, Kollier Din Bangura takes us around the neighbourhood to discover true where the true value lies in Dalston.

The sign from 27A Dalston Lane

The sign from 27A Dalston Lane

— 27a Dalston Lane, formerly The Passage
Starting with The Passage, a venue set up by Kollier. Until its closure 27a, a.k.a, The Passage, became one of Dalston’s legendary underground night-time venues. “Jamie XX and Skepta were there. But I want to do the community thing first, before I celebrate the celebrity part.”

“A lot of the black people I spoke to were questioning how difficult it was for them to access other venues: to get into clubs as a single black guy, or to have dinner, or to have a place where they could listen to their own music and dance, where they feel like they’re somebody. The things I saw at The Passage are magical. It’s a place where you could go and bond; if you feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulder, you can calm down, get in, you know you’re safe, and you have a good time — you’ll be looked after.”

“It ended up becoming a place that had its own spirit. Even for me, I felt like I was a passenger in a space that had its own mission!”

The club was neighbour to a number of African churches, all of which have been evicted with the change in ownership of the building for luxury redevelopment.

“These African churches are are in vulnerable positions,” says Kollier. “People don’t have immigration status. Say the pastor doesn’t pay the bill properly. That means high risk for real estate. Many of these companies are buying African churches outside of the planning jurisdiction. By the time these get redeveloped for planning, the council end up evicting a church and the community members don’t even know they were in breach of anything.”

“Everything I try to do I link to the area — there’s always a story behind it.”
— The Invisible Line
This is one of my inspirations to call my previous cafe Ridleys, drawn by by a local artist Jane Smith, who we held a show for. She gave me this as a present. It’s all about Route 38, the Hackney Bus, so these are historical things that relate to the story of the area. My company that owns all these businesses is called Route 38. So it shows that everything I try to do I link to the area — there’s always a story behind it.

“It’s not a colour thing, it’s have you got the money”
– Hibiscus New Gents Salon

“This is the oldest Afro-Caribbean barbers in the country. It was the first black barber shop in the UK. The queue used to be right around the corner, like 50 men in the 70’s and 80’s as there was nowhere else to go.” says Tony, the owner. “My dad was the barber and I’m still doing it.”  Getting a shop isn’t the problem, it’s can you afford it at the end of the day. It’s the same story now. It’s not a colour thing, it’s have you got the money.

A place where people can be themselves away from the economics or exclusivity’”
Lo Cost Tropical Food
This is a very special lady,’ exclaims Kollier as we walk in and Lydia greets us warmly.
‘This lady looks after you. She offers homely things, when you’re working late. Come on Sunday and you’ll see her all dressed up.’

Normally if you come to these shops, they have a space away at the back where these guys can sit down and listen to music. And meditate. And also a fun space. Again a place where people can actually be themselves away from the economic climate or exclusive spaces like going to a bar or a coffee shop. These kind of spaces and these shops serve as an essential role in the community as social spaces.

Kollier and Lydia, Lo Cost Tropical Food

Kollier and Lydia, Lo Cost Tropical Food

“We see worth, not just in the exchange but in the person”
— Alpha and Omega
The lady who runs this shop has been here for over 20 years. From what I know about economics, black women are very resourceful in terms of planning ahead. They’re more resilient. It’s the women who are creating that economic power, the spiritual element, and they give a lot. That’s what we can teach a younger generation in terms of trust.

The best thing is looking at how customers behave‚ their attitude. The way they take their time and look over what they’re buying. Just the way African people do things — our rhythm of things is different to shopping in Sainsbury’s. We see worth, not just in exchange but in the person.

That’s why I say to Hackney Council — Look after these people like you would do Borough Market. Look after these women who have had these businesses for twenty years. As soon as they get twenty years on their lease you need to give them protected tenancy.

It’s not just money. They’re landmarks of a space, that’s why people come.

Look after them so that they don’t just have to sell, sell, sell to be here. Make it so that their business isn’t just about the money. Because they’re the currency themselves.

It’s the same with immigration or refugees. People don’t see the worth in human spirit. You don’t know what that person’s capable of, you just see their passport. You’ve got to give them parity. There has to be a revolution in the way people see themselves.

“All the motivation that you need from your community is here”
— Sierra Leonian Shop

You know in every country there’s a place with diplomatic immunity. That’s this spot for Sierra Leone. They sell cassava leaf, palm oil, bitters. She thinks she’s the best Sierra Leonean business person in Dalston — until she met me! I’ll come here to send money back to my cousins, we’ll have a chat, we’ll talk about politics in Sierra Leone. And they’ll counsel me. Today, for example, I had to report a theft from the gallery, and they said — “Don’t worry, God will fix it.” All the motivation that you need from your community is here. It’s humbling.

But note, that she pays full rent, but she hasn’t got any water. A lot of these units they wouldn’t rent to someone like yourselves. That’s the robbery in terms of basics.

It’s degeneration, not investing in the facilities here, not regeneration.

Read more about Kollier’s background story here.

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