UK’s curry capital faces ‘devastating’ impact due to Covid-19, says report

Shops and businesses remain closed off Brick Lane on April 21, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
Shops and businesses remain closed off Brick Lane on April 21, 2020 in London, England. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

A new report has revealed that the UK’s world-renowned curry capital Brick Lane has become a ‘ghost town’ as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The report ‘Beyond Banglatown – continuity, change and new urban economies in Brick Lane’ has found a 62 per cent decline in South Asian-owned restaurants and cafes in the area in just 15 years until early 2020. The number of outlets reduced to just 23 from 60 during the period.

Brick Lane is also known as ‘Banglatown’ because of its status as the heartland of the Bangladeshi community in Britain. As per the 2011 census there were 451,529 Bangladeshis living there.

The report by Claire Alexander, Seán Carey, Sundeep Lidher, Suzi Hall and Julia King highlights the unique contribution of the Bangladeshi community in Brick Lane and East London.

Further, it calls for this heritage to be recognised and commemorated in Brick Lane itself, as well as in heritage institutions and education.

Shams Uddin, who runs The Monsoon on Brick Lane since 2000, fears the chancellor’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ scheme, which starts on August 3, will not be enough.

“Normally, at this time of the year, the city people go on holiday and we get the tourists but because of the virus, we’ve got hardly anyone. The landlord still wants the rent. Unless customers come back soon most restaurants in Brick Lane will only be able to survive another three or four months.”

It is estimated that the restaurant and takeaway sector in Brick Lane is worth £3.5 billion. It includes around 10,000 small businesses, of which 80 per cent are Bangladeshi-owned, employing around 80,000 people.

“The UK government should provide significant financial support-investment and training-to help survive the Covid-19 crisis. City and borough planners should recognise the hidden social and economic costs of regeneration and global investment in east London, and secure affordable social housing for low-paid workers and affordable workspaces,” the report recommended. 

It also proposes to develop a borough planning support through ground-floor property usage restrictions, capping of rents, extension of licensing hours and investment in the night-time economy.

Professor Claire Alexande at The University of Manchester, said: “The threat to the curry houses of Brick Lane, and across the country, strikes at the heart of one of the UK’s most vulnerable communities and risks decimating its central contribution to British life and culture – the British curry”

According to Bashir Ahmed, president of the British Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce & Industry Brick Lane has been so badly affected by the pandemic and ethnic minority businesses need help and support to survive.

“Covid-19 has severely impacted Brick Lane’s renowned curry restaurants and cafes, which have already been decimated by gentrification, and restrictive visa requirements making it extremely expensive and cumbersome to recruit trained chefs from South Asia. We urge government and the Mayor of London to step in with strong business and financial support to help weather this harsh economic storm,” said Dr Zubaida Haque, interim director, Runnymede Trust.