This is a bit of a generalisation, but as someone who was brought up outside London, one thing that has struck me about this city since I’ve lived here is the sense of community that we see and feel in adversity as opposed to the lack of any real sense of community when things return to normality.
The last three months have been difficult for London and its inhabitants, to say the least. Unless you have just landed from Mars, you won’t need me to go into great detail as to why. And what we have seen is a series of situations where people who may in different circumstances have crossed the street to avoid each instead crossing the street to help, often putting themselves at serious peril.
After every one of the tragic events London has encountered recently, the outpouring of both love and grief is incredible (in a good way) and the acts of bravery and generosity of spirit are quite astounding. London wins every time in its desire to show the perpetrators of crime that they are ultimately fighting a battle they simply cannot win.
It’s the same elsewhere, of course. We’ve seen it in Manchester and we’ve seen it in other UK cities over the years. It has to be. But it is sad that it takes such shocking adversity to pull us all together, when things could be so different.
I’ve always been struck too by the way wholesale markets are so removed from what people generally view as a normal workplace. The working life of a fruit and veg trader is particularly unusual, I’d argue, as he or she operates during the opposite hours to almost everyone else in their world.
However, it is the very fact that these traders are different that unites them more than it divides. I do get a sense of community whenever I set foot in a wholesale market. Even when the fur is flying, you know that the majority of people care about each other and above all about the over-riding good of a market that has been at the centre of its communities for centuries.
It’s been said to me on many occasions that a wholesaler will fight his neighbour tooth and nail over every last penny, then fight him again to buy the first round at the bar once work is done. I know it’s true – I’ve been there!
I don’t want to over-egg the pudding – there is always going to be an element of division in any multi-tenanted trading environment – especially one where so many traders are selling from similar product portfolios. There is arguably a greater need for wholesalers to stick together though. Out of sight does sometimes mean out of mind when it comes to government policy or the actions of a landlord. London’s wholesale markets have all had documented problems in the recent past and a united tenant community is vital in overcoming commercial adversity, even if the internal competition within that united force remains fierce on a day-to-day basis.
In the last month, New Spitalfields tenants have contributed to several events that not only showcased the market as a purveyor of high quality fresh produce and flowers, but also as a caring member of its local area and of London as a whole.
One of those events marked the centenary of 18 innocent Poplar children being killed in a bombing during the First World War. Remembering tragedies such as these is as important as ever. The key though as the more recent tragedies have mounted up will be how it shapes the way we live the rest of our professional and personal lives.