Mamusu Kallon and photographer Sebastian Morrison record the latest local protest against huge rent rises that are driving out independent enterprises
More than 300 children, parents, traders and cuddly toys protested at the weekend against “astronomical” rent rises from a charity landlord that has forced the Just Williams toyshop in Herne Hill to close.
They marched from Herne Hill station to the toy shop in Half Moon Lane, chanting “Save our shops. Save Herne Hill” while holding toys and banners reading “Dulwich Estate Toy Snatchers”.
Traders say that The Dulwich Estate, a charity that funds some of London’s top private schools, has threatened the survival of independent shops by pushing up rents by as much as 70% since they were last set five years ago.
The estate owns the freehold of another local favourite, the Half Moon, whose supporters are campaigning hard to save it as a music venue when it reopens, rather than just another posh pub.
The charity earns roughly £6 million a year from its portfolio, has net assets worth more than £262.5 million and counts fee-charging schools Dulwich College, Alleyn’s and James Allen’s Girls’ among its beneficiaries.
A petition calling for it to charge “reasonable” rents has gained thousands of signatures, as well as backing from celebrities including Lucky Man actor James Nesbitt, who is a local resident.
“The fact that Dulwich Estate, a wealthy landowner, is hiking up rates, which only benefits fee-paying schools, while depriving the community of all these individual shops, is beyond me. It just seems crazy that Dulwich Estates wants to do this to its own community, ” Nesbitt said from the march on Saturday afternoon.
Owner Vicky Brown said: “We’ve kept all our fixtures and fitting and are just hoping that we can stay in the area, but are also looking further afield. It’s heartbreaking as Just Williams was a place of congregation for children and families.”
Karina, co-owner of bike shop Bon Velo, voiced the widespread concern among traders that such steep hikes would set a precedent for private landlords in the area. She cited her own upcoming rent review and said she faced an 80% increase.
Giles Gibson, chairman of the Herne Hill Forum, which organised the protest, said: “Just Williams, our only local children’s toy shop in Half Moon Lane, has gone. They could not afford the near 70% rent hike that local landlord Dulwich Estates imposed.
“Local residents are incensed at the way a few local landlords are tearing apart our neighbourhood by cashing in on other people’s efforts. Did they contribute in any way to the improvements to the area? “
Polly, 9, who came with best friend Isaac and her mum, said that she felt upset about the loss of the toyshop. “They are meant to be a charity, but they’re just greedy,” she said. “I feel really sad because its where we all bought presents for friends’ birthday parties.”
“It’s just not fair,” Isaac added.