Traders working at markets in east London are suffering from a lack of private toilets and having to pay to use nearby facilities every time they need them.
Located between Shadwell and Whitechapel in Tower Hamlets, Watney Market has been serving London’s East End for over 150 years.
During the Victorian era, the market was busy due to its proximity to the River Thames, and attracted many people, including sailors, dockers, and families from the East End.
According to historical records, this market was so popular that in 1927, he had 227 stalls competing for the chance to secure one of his 200 vacant stores.
Today the market contains 62 pitches, though council documents reveal only 67per cent are occupied. Locals still flock to the much smaller parade of shops and stalls that still line Watney Street because they can pick up all their favourite fish, fresh fruit and vegetables, or bedding for a fraction of today’s supermarket prices.
But for traders who are there six days a week come rain or shine, market life could be better if they had their own set of toilets and a proper roof to cover their stalls. Having no toilets of their own means traders have to resort to paying a fee just so they can use the closest ones, or they must reluctantly choose to hold it in all day.
For Kaif Ahmad who has run his stall mostly on his own for more than 20 years, he says he has to time his toilet breaks strategically and has come to rely on other traders to watch his stall whenever he needs to go. Mr Ahmad says he does have a worker who helps him run his stall during the mornings and evenings but said he couldn’t afford to pay him for the whole day.
He told the LDRS: “The toilets are very far from here, the toilets are indoors in the middle of the market and I have to walk for two to three minutes, but I’m working alone here so that’s why it’s very difficult for me.” A few stalls down and another trader, Noor Miah, is selling colourful scarves and fabrics. Despite the gloomy Thursday weather, Mr Miah is still smiling as he tells the LDRS how his day at work has been.
Mr Miah agrees with Mr Ahmad’s concerns and said a lack of free and accessible toilets has been a long-term problem for market traders. He explained: “You need to buy a tea or coffee to use the toilet. If you don’t buy a tea or coffee, you can’t use the toilet. Everybody must pay £1 or £2 and buy a coffee so they can use the toilet.”
It’s not just this though, as Mr Miah says the weather plays a huge role in how good or bad business is for traders. He said: “Today it’s been quiet and empty because of the weather and when it’s like this there’s less customers, business is no good. If it’s light rain? It’s not a problem, but if there’s a lot of rain then it’s a big problem.”
Mr Miah believes the market should be under one big roof as he argues business would improve and traders would see an influx in customers, no matter if it’s raining or snowing. Last year, the council published an action plan for every market in the borough which included a survey carried out on shoppers, businesses and market traders from the year before.
For Watney Market, the survey found 57pc of market traders said they would like to see a roof over the market to protect their stalls and products against the weather. Traders also mentioned the issue with a lack of toilets available on site for them, while some said they’d like to see more flowers, antiques and home décor being sold at the market.
The council published two separate action plans which detail how it aims to improve the market by 2027, however toilets and a roof for the market aren’t included in the plans. Instead the council plans to introduce new gazebos for traders, new bins and new anchor points for market pitches. Tower Hamlets Council has been contacted for comment.