A local business woman has been worn out by a decade-long battle for the removal of telecom boxes outside her restaurant.
In her latest campaign against the broadband providers she wants removal, a digital sign and compensation.
[Co-worker and husband Junior gardening outside the Caribbean restaurant and takeaway in 2013, before the installation of the next four telecom boxes]
Back in 2009, Guyanese émigré Deborah Monfries remortgaged her house to fulfil her dream of opening a Caribbean restaurant on Croxted Road. She even cherished the hope of expanding into multiple branches across south London.
More than a decade on, the roti parlour continues to fight for its survival as a result of five outsize telecom boxes.
The restaurateur has left few avenues untried: letters to the telecom companies and local authorities, an online petition, a public campaign, and an assembly at Southwark Council. The first telecom box appeared in 2012. A year later, four more were installed directly outside the premises.
Debbie and her husband Junior have struggled to keep the business afloat. Annual revenue “went from £83,000 to £30,000” after the installation of the first box. Moreover, footfall has decreased significantly, forcing Monfries to dismiss all five staff in 2015.
Skirting a busy junction between West Norwood and Herne Hill, the Caribbean restaurant has always relied heavily on being easily visible to passing traffic: “before the boxes appeared, more than half of our revenue came from passing trade,” she says.
The decade long battle for the removal of the boxes has taken its toll on her physical health. After suffering a heart attack on the premises in June this year, she was diagnosed with heart burn.
Despite numerous fundraising efforts, interventions from the Herne Hill Forum and local MP Helen Hayes, the local authorities have done little to challenge the telecom corporations. In 2017, Debbie took direct action and wrote to O2, demanding a removal.
In response to her enquiry, the corporation suggested trimming the birch tree adjacent to the boxes. According to the tech giant, this would help to ‘minimise their presence.’ After refusing the proposal, she was told an entire removal of the infrastructure would be ‘too expensive.’
Relocation was also deemed impossible under the bridge as this would ‘damage’ the local pigeon habitat.
Debbie feels let down by both Lambeth and Southwark councils, both of whom have failed to address the misplacement of the boxes and the impact they have had on her business.
Umanayana sits on the border between Lambeth and Southwark jurisdiction, the telecom boxes providing connections for the Lambeth side, whilst the site of the restaurant is managed by Southwark.
In 2017, when the negative impact of the infrastructure on footfall became clear, Debbie took her case to the Southwark council assembly where it was presented with the Herne Hill Forum, to an apparently sympathetic audience: “they were shocked at the situation and they couldn’t understand why nothing had been done about it before,” she recalls.
In January 2018, two members of Southwark Council came to survey the premises and agreed to take action on Debbie’s behalf, requesting the head digital and technology officer for Southwark officer bring up the ‘inappropriate siting of the boxes’ in a meeting with the telecom companies.
The email dated from December last year received no response. The restaurateur then attempted to take the companies to court on her own, paying 6000 to hire a barrister from Waldron solicitors who then refused to take on the case.
Debbie hasn’t given up yet, relaunching her Help Save Umanayana campaign, this time taking aim at the big corporations marginalising the Caribbean community.
The Guyanese émigré first arrived in the UK from in 1990 and has never looked back. “This business is my life and my soul. I came from a poor family, I had to work since I was 8. If they put their mind to it and gave us a digital sign,– my headache will be over.”
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294 Croxted Rd,
London SE24 9DA
Tel: 020 8671 8227
[Article by Francesca Papp]