Brixton People’s Kitchen fights eviction as deadline nears

Simone Richardson talks to people involved about the unusual occurrence of one charity evicting another and how it will impact thousands of vulnerable people

women with Covid masks at counter
Inside the Brixton People’s Kitchen cafe

Brixton People’s Kitchen, which began life in Brixton 10 years ago but could not afford local rents, now faces eviction from its current Kennington home with serious consequences for hundreds of vulnerable local people.

Staff and supporters have launched a petition against the move by another charity – the Black Prince Trust (BPT) – to hand over the cafe space Brixton People’s Kitchen (BPK) has been using to a company that can pay more rent.

Given a deadline of 15 July to get out, BPK has no new premises to move to and says more than 5,000 vulnerable people will be left without access to healthy affordable food.

As well as providing a community shop and cafe for local people on low or no income, BPK provides a week’s worth of essential groceries and cooked food for £5-£10, as well as community activities, to more than 340 local households.

It also offers volunteering and work opportunities to local disabled people and vulnerable young people, and provided free food to 5,000 households during the first lockdown.

“This is a critical moment for families and young children and my team and I estimate that at least 160 children will go without packed lunches during the school summer holidays due to our eviction,” said managing director Kemi Akinola.

woman in line outside shot
Kemi Akinola (Left) with BPK staff and volunteers

“It’s heartbreaking to know that we will be unable to provide the support to the local community that is so deeply needed.”

The Black Prince Trust, which will also be 10 years old in 2021, leases a large site in Kennington from Lambeth council for a “peppercorn” [very low] rent. In return, it uses the site of the former Lilian Bayliss school to provide sports facilities for the community.

It recently began to run the site directly itself, taking over from the council’s leisure provider GLL, and saying it was looking forward to “an exciting new chapter” in its existence.

On 30 April this year trust CEO Kirk Harrison said in a statement that, because of losses caused by the pandemic, it was “no longer able to sustain our support of Brixton People’s Kitchen in their current facility”.

Harrison who, in an earlier life, was a top banker with Barclays, said a new, but unnamed, operator able to pay rent at a commercial level, would take over the cafe used by BPK. It would offer free cooking lessons, an after-school homework club with healthy eating options, and other services to the community.

Supporters of BPK contest the trust’s claim that this was “a fair and open process”. They say BPK was given only two weeks to re-apply for its space.

The new business offered more money for the space, but because the trust refused to reveal the size of the offer, supporters say, the People’s Kitchen had no opportunity to meet it.

BPK says that, in 13 months, it had turned disused premises into a popular local space and an anchor for the community, recently featured on BBC London News:

In its statement, the Black Prince Trust said it had subsidised BPK rent free for “a prolonged period” and, more recently, at a reduced rent, as well as an investing in facilities to deliver its services. 

Because of Covid, the trust had lost between 50%-80% of its income and was running at a loss, it said.

An offer to support the Brixton People’s Kitchen “in this transition” was still available as well as an offer of assistance with “alternative facilities”.

Kemi Akinola, who became managing director of BPK in 2015, said the alternative venues suggested included a portable cabin in a car park and tents.

Black Prince Trust had an income of more than £500,000 in the 12 months to April 2020, the latest date for which figures are available. During this year it had three employees paid a total of just under £150,000 – up from £111,545 in the previous year.

The trust’s annual return to the Charity Commission shows its total gross income of £508,090 in the year to 31 April 2020 was well up on the equivalent figure for the previous year of £351,450.

inside cafe
The cafe its used as a base to bring healthy and cheap food to vulnerable people

Local MP Florence Eshalomi (Lab, Vauxhall) has called on the trust to put off its decision on the cafe until at least September – after the summer school holidays – this year.

Kemi Akinola, who spoke to the Blog earlier this year, said: “It’s a deeply disappointing decision by the Black Prince Trust to force us out at such a critical time for families and individuals in the local community.

“Over the past 18 months we’ve built strong bonds with people in the local community and have been able to provide a wide range of services and community events.

“It’s truly disheartening to see profit being favoured ahead of the community and those most in need,” she said.

portrait of woman
Kemi Akinola © The Peoples Kitchen

Due to the pandemic, Lambeth saw a 137% increase in food bank use in 2020.

Georgia Wright, the Brixton People’s Kitchen store manager, said: “I am devastated that we are being forced to leave and it’s with a heavy heart I have to tell my customers that we won’t be here to provide our critical services after 15 July.

“There are no other affordable alternatives in the local area that can offer the same diversity of foods, community activities and support services that are so vital.”

Leanne Cooker is a Brixton People Kitchen “local shopper”. She told the Blog: “We will be very sad to see Brixton People’s Kitchen go.

“We have got to know all of the staff over the last year and have come to depend on the shop.”

two women behind cafe counter
Kemi Akinola and Georgia Wright in the BPK cafe

You can donate to the kitchen.

You can join the 700+ people who have already signed the petition to save the BPK community shop and cafe.

The Red Cross featured Brixton People’s Kitchen in a blog post.

Discover the history of Brixton People’s Kitchen through our posts: