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East Londoners baffled by anti-poverty protest

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The general reaction in east London to last weekend’s attack on the Cereal Killer Café by anti-gentrification protesters has been neither anger nor approval, but bafflement.
“Everyone agreed it was the wrong target,” said William Exley, who works in a shop in Boxpark, a pop-up shopping mall that fits well in trendy Shoreditch. “I don’t think [the café] has anything to do with the real issues of gentrification. It’s a gimmicky place.”
Designed as a celebration of breakfast nostalgia, theCereal Killer Café has become the wrathful focus of UK anti-poverty campaigners who argue that by charging £4.40 for a large bowl of Fruity Cheerios, the café is excluding the area’s long-term residents.
Last Saturday night protesters barricaded the café, daubed red paint on its windows and accused it of serving “the no-good gentrifying rich hipsters”.
The next anti-gentrification demo is planned for this coming Sunday, this time outside the Jack the Ripper Museum, which campaigners say glorifies violence against women. “Yes, hipster businesses aren’t the actual problem — capitalism and landlords are — but it is certainly a good thing that these people were made to feel unwelcome,” wrote Adam Lawrence Barr, one of the protesters.
On that measure, however, the protesters are failing. The Cereal Killer has become a local tourist attraction, and thanks to the publicity now has more than 40,000 fans on Facebook. That is a sharp improvement in fortunes since last year, when it raised just £1,015 on crowdfunding site Indiegogo.
A second branch is open in Camden; the Cereal Killer Café Cookbook goes on sale next month. “The mob won’t win, wearing masks with pitch forks and torches, it’s 2015,” the café, owned by Alan and Gary Keery, tweeted following the protests.
The other point the café’s defenders make is that the protest, organised by Class War, was a bit late: the Cereal Killer Café arrived when gentrification in east London was already in full swing. Its premises on Brick Lane were previously occupied by an art house DVD rental shop.
‘There is always going to be a conflict. If an area is poor, you are going to get artists and creatives moving in. I don’t understand how you’re going to stop it happening’
– Tom Curry, who works in PR in Shoreditch
Next door is a shop selling chocolate truffles; opposite is an art gallery; and a new estate agent has opened a few doors down. Nearby are large chains — including Pret A Manger, Byron Burger and Sainsbury’s. “It’s like someone pressed fast-forward over the past three years,” said Emma Roussel, a teacher.
Shoreditch — once an area many poor Bangladeshi immigrants lived in — now has tech start-ups as well as public relations and advertising outfits. Beard trims are on offer for £17 and £3.20 mochas.
“There is always going to be a conflict,” said Tom Curry, who works in PR in Shoreditch. “If an area is poor, you are going to get artists and creatives moving in. I don’t understand how you’re going to stop it happening.”
But the manager of one local business said he did understand the frustrations of locals over the invasion of the wealthy. “You’ve got Versace down the road — and a pile of mattresses under the bridge. There’s something not quite right,” he said.
Campaign group “Fuck Parade” said it did not target Cereal Killer and that protesters ended up outside by chance during confrontations with police.
They said the protest was to demonstrate against neighbourhoods being “decimated to provide investment opportunities for those who already have plenty of wealth”.
Asked why they targeted an independent shop instead of a nearby Pret A Manger, the group said its members liked Pret A Manger because “it’s easy to steal from and they give sarnies to the homeless and they are a damn sight better value than £4.50 for a bowl of fucking Coco Pops”.
Gentrification as a term was coined in 1964 by the Marxist sociologist Ruth Glass. Since then the middle classes have swept through Hampstead and Chelsea into Islington, Notting Hill and Battersea. Brixton, in south-east London, was torn apart by rioting in the 1980s yet now has a “village” area that is a hipster haven of craft ale, trendy food and boutique shops, sharply at odds with life in some of the surrounding estates.
Brixton, too, has seen protests (a Foxtons window was smashed at one in April) over the cost of houses and business premises. The Reclaim Brixton campaign has attacked the “parliament of landlords who have sold off London as a speculative commodity to the highest bidder”.
One particular grievance is the future of Brixton’s railway arches, currently home to independent food, hardware and clothing shops. The landlord, Network Rail, plans a refurbishment followed by “stepped rental increases” for tenants. Protesters argue rents could rise 300 per cent, forcing out businesses that have been there for years.
The Shoreditch protesters have also focused on property prices, which have risen faster than in central London since 2013 and now regularly fetch £1,500 a square foot. A flat near Shoreditch High Street overground station is currently on sale for £2.5m.

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