Roti protesters call out ‘callous’ telecom giants

Herne Hill campaign group Save Umana Yana last night (7 October) staged a 10th birthday party for the telecom boxes that disrupt the business of local Guyanese restaurant Umana Yana, dubbed “South London’s best roti place”. 

Locals showed up en masse to 294 Croxted Road opposite Brockwell Park to dance to the tunes of Anja Ngozi, Dean Bryce and other local musical talents, eat rotis, and call on councillors in both Southwark and Lambeth to help save Umana Yana.

The beloved local, which opened in 2009, has seen a massive drop in footfall since the telecom boxes were installed in 2012.

The restaurant is on the borders of Lambeth and Southwark jurisdictions. 

Owner Deborah Monfries, the Herne Hill Forum and restaurant regulars have been fighting the decision and appealing to both councils, which have been shifting the blame for the decision between them and have repeatedly refused to tackle the misplacement of the boxes.

Locals also appealed to Virgin Media, one of the companies using the boxes, to relocate the boxes, but were told the operation would be “too expensive”.

Virgin Media, a global media giant, has had an average yearly revenue of £4.86 billion since 2014. O2 and Vodafone UK are the two other major telecoms companies who have chosen to erect telecoms boxes outside of Umana Yama’s premises.

The campaign Save Umana Yana also relaunched a petition and a fundraiser to help support the restaurant in its fight to get rid of the boxes.

A petition in 2017 gathered 2,000 signatures from neighbours and customers but was ignored by both Lambeth and Southwark councils. 

Save Umana Yana organiser Sophie said: “It has been heartbreaking to see Debbie struggle on her own against all of these powerful people for so long.

“The boxes have been ruining her business.

“They are loud, ugly, emit dangerous radiation, and should never have been installed there in the first place.

“It is like the councils and Virgin Media, O2 and Vodafone decided to screw over the most vulnerable business in the neighbourhood, and Debbie has lost income and her peace of mind because of their callousness.

“Our neighbourhood is becoming more expensive by the day and Umana Yana is one of few genuinely affordable places we have left.

“It would be a crime to see it go because these people can’t be bothered to correct their mistakes.”

“I was so happy to see so many of our customers and neighbours show up to support us in our long struggle against this mistake which has caused my business and my family so much pain, said Deborah Monfries.

“It is sad we have to do this kind of stuff to protest, and it is sad that 10 years have passed with no-one with power taking responsibility for what they have done, but we have taken this negative thing and made a joyous protest together with our community members.”

The Herne Hill Society and the Herne Hill Forum both expressed their support, saying they are “very pleased to help Debbie in her campaign to get these eyesores removed”.

Both organisations said they had supported her in many ways over the years but with little success. “She is a stalwart of the local community and her food is delicious! We wish her every success. Good luck Debbie.”

In 2017 the forum said: “The telecommunications equipment structures were installed despite planning being refused by Southwark council, blocking the view of her shop and leading to a significant fall in trade.

“Debbie has invested so much hard work and significant sums of money in her business and this development should never have taken place.”