• It’s been a while that we wanted to write something about ‘social enterprise’ Tree Shepherd and their role in the planned demolition of the Elephant Shopping Centre. We wanted to say something not the least because of the dubious roles so-called ‘social enterprises’ often play when contracted into sites of regeneration and gentrification. With their appointment in June 2017 we were fine to see how they went about helping traders at the Shopping Centre and how useful they could be. One year later and after everything we’ve seen and heard, we just aren’t convinced by them at all.
Tree Shepherd is a private consultancy appointed by Southwark Council as an ‘independent’ business advisor for the traders. But this was yet another trick played by the council and the developer, since Tree Shepherd is paid for by Delancey as a way of showing ‘commitment’ to the traders in the relocation process. But in reality Tree Shepherd works as an undercover agent who barely engages with traders only to pass on useful information to Delancey – How can the advisor remain independent when their funds come from the developer who intends to kick out all traders and demolish the Shopping Centre? As we understand it they are paid about £165,000 by Delancey, so if were cynical we would question how does that help them remain ‘independent’. As an advisor their role is to be help the traders with their relocation and/or compensation but in over a year their work can only be measured by how they have helped… Delancey!
Despite the Council acknowledging some 130 small independent businesses in the so-called ‘red-line’ of the development – including market stalls, kiosks, shop units, arches, etc –, following the appointment in June 2017, Tree Shepherd established a list of only 24 businesses who could ‘benefit’ from their services. 18 months after their appointment –with an increase in funding during 2018-, the situation continues to be same, if not worse… They told us ‘We’re working with 30 traders mainly and keeping an additional 70-80 informed on what’s happening with the planning etc’.
One of the first things Tree Shepherd did when starting their job was to undertake a survey that basically collected useful data for Delancey on traders. They used that data to see what expectations traders had, how much they were selling and, most importantly, if they were willing to stay in the area. Ask an open question like ‘do you want to stay in the area?’ and when some of them answered they wanted to stay but were worried about rent increase in the new places – Tree Shepherd used this information to then claim that not all traders are willing to relocate, and this information was used by Delancey in their ‘relocation update’ to argue that not all traders might need assistance.
Above: Cafe Nova in the Elephant Shopping Centre – closed after 17 years. Cafe Nova was a social enterprise giving regular work to disadvantaged folks. We asked Tree Shepherd ‘will they be helped to relocate locally?’. No answer to date.
Their way of working consists of Tree Shepherd of every now and then scheduling meetings with traders to either inform them of how the process is taking longer than expected and that they should be patient; or make them fill in forms with no valuable outcomes; or taking them on ‘tours’ to see empty garages, building sites or planning drawings of how some potential units (still not delivered nor with planning consent) and at one point actually tweeting out photos of these visits until traders complained; or simply making traders waste their time. What’s the purpose of these meetings? Box ticking exercise: registering the meeting so then the Council and Delancey can brag about how many times they have assisted the traders.
But things get even worse since Delancey was granted initial planning permission by Southwark (the scheme still needs Greater London Authority approval for a full planning consent) on 3rd July 2018. As traders have raised in more than one opportunity to local Councillors, Planning Officers and GLA authorities, Tree Shepherd has a serious lack of personnel, their staff keep changing, the opening times on the drop-in centre at Unit 231 constantly change, they are not properly advertised and is now down to two days only, as if it were a reflection from Unit 215 by Delancey. None of this adds up in their favour, in our humble opinion.
Research done by the excellent Latin Elephant shows that the main problem is that ‘only 471 square metres have been made available for independent traders by Delancey. Even though traders currently occupy 4,005 square metres of floor space. This equates to the displacement of the majority of those businesses’. There also seems to be a qualifying process for relocation when we think ALL traders should automatically qualify for relocation. You could say Tree Shepherd might be, consciously or not, acting as a gatekeeper on who will get relocated to a new trading place in The Elephant and who won’t and this is some ways will be dictated by Delancey who certainly won’t want most traders in their new posh development. Certainly Tree Shepherd and Delancey are clear that ‘businesses must be suitable for the mix and diversity that the Operator thinks will work’ as they told the traders recently.
Funny then how they describe themselves as ‘Tree Shepherd works with local authorities and developers to help bring the benefits of this regeneration to local people. We work with local people who want to start a new business and with existing small businesses who are faced with the huge challenge and uncertainty caused by relocating their business’. For traders, the huge challenge and uncertainty has been years in the making and many traders are just shutting up shop worn out by the daily stress of their ‘regeneration’.
The latest from this awful saga comes in the form of ‘superpowers’ conferred to Tree Shepherd by Delancey –with Southwark’s approval! As part of their ‘relocation’ proposal, Delancey is suggesting the relocation fund (which is still a mere £5,000 per trader) to be administered by Tree Shepherd – isn’t that an open conflict of interest?! On top of that Tree Shepherd will have discretionary powers to veto traders for relocation based on the ‘viability of a business plan’; ‘trader’s ability to perform and progress’, and ‘ability to run a successful business’ – Once again, if the independence of the advisor has been questioned since it was first appointed, how can the traders rest assured they are not being stabbed in the back?
Our helpful summary: Charade of a process conducted by a social enterprise consultant where the outcomes are pre-determined because the developer won’t relocate existing business unless they might be the type of businesses wealthy incomers to area want. Thus when traders participate this gives legitimacy to the whole charade and in addition delivers valuable information to the developer with no meaningful benefit to the participants. In fact, that information further enhances the dual process of displacement and disempowerment.
It may be that in all the other ‘social enterprise’ work they do with different groups and communities Tree Shepherd have some good stuff to offer but here in The Elephant we can’t see that they aren’t acting in bad faith and with total complicity with the social cleansing plans for the area.
Tree Shepherd’s website listing all the sites of dubious ‘regeneration’ they are paid to work on.
• For Regeneration, Read Social Cleansing!
Interestingly their striking parallels between the Elephant Shopping Centre and Greenwich Councls plans for the ‘regeneration‘ of Spray Street in Woolwich. Tree Shepherd is paid to be a business advisor at both sites where predominantly black and brown-owned business are under threat of being chucked out of the area. This news report has Woolwich traders dishing it out on Tree Shepherd –
‘Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe also said that two firms – Tree Shepherd and GL Hearn – had been appointed to “reach out” to businesses in the area. But one businesswoman – Barareh Berendji, who runs a dental surgery with her family – was scornful of the efforts of Tree Shepherd, which is also involved in the controversial Elephant & Castle shopping centre redevelopment. ‘I’ve been approached by Tree Shepherd, they came to visit our practice to tell us how to run a business,” she said. “I know how to run a business! I don’t need someone to help me to run a business, I need someone to help me keep my business!…One shopkeeper, Mr Patel from a newsagent on Woolwich New Road said: “I’ve been trading on the same spot for 35 years. It’s always been at the heart of the community, we had a thriving Woolwich market which the council has let it run down over the years. We’re all in favour of change… but we’re part of the community and we make it tick. I had a laughable offer from someone from Tree Shepherd – ‘if we relocate you to Abbey Wood, would you be happy with that’? I mean, we want to be part of this, we’ve worked our lives here. We should be allowed to be where we are and be given a place to trade from, instead of just being bought out and moved on. We want to be part of this community.”
This is something that the Elephant community campaigns have been very insistent on, that Southwark Council takes seriously it’s public sector equality duties in regard to the detrimental effects on black and brown owned businesses in The Elephant:
‘…in assessing the impacts of the loss of the affordable businesses premises on traders and customers of Black And Minority Ethnic backgrounds [Council Report OR/165-173], the Council’s analysis fails to consider, properly or at all, the collective impact of the loss of the cluster and unique ecosystem of BAME, and Latino businesses in particular, which is of vital importance to the Latino community not just in Elephant and Castle but right across London..the Council failed to have regard to the equalities impacts of the proposals on women and female BAME business owners who are likely to find it harder to relocate their businesses than male counterparts’.
• Up The Elephant Community Campaigns still rocking it
Keep an eye out for new Up The Elephant campaign actions and initiative very soon. A legal challenge has been set in motion – read all about it here and do object online, takes about 3 minutes. Objection is on the same link above:
35% Campaign writes: ‘Delancey have to provide a temporary facility for displaced independent traders, as a condition of planning approval for the shopping centre redevelopment…Latin Elephant and the Elephant Traders welcome the concession, but have also objected that the proposed building is too small and would have trading restrictions that would make it an impractical premises for many of the displaced businesses. Delancey’s proposals mention 33 independent traders, while the trader’s own estimate is that there is a need to provide for over 100 traders. There are also many other issues, including the level of rents and service charges, the security of tenacy arrangements, selection criteria and disability access’.
Up The Elephant has pushed Delancey and the Council for significant gains on social housing and we are pushing hard for the traders too. We maintained actions and protest in the streets and we are working too behind these public expressions of support for the Shopping Centre. All welcome. Get involved.