IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

Students stage protest at ‘Blighty’ café in Finsbury Park

Owner is accused of celebrating colonialism as Boris Johnson slams action by ‘hard-left mob’

02 February, 2018 — By Emily Finch

Blighty café owner Chris Evans with the wax model of Churchill

LATTES and tempers were frothing as a dozen demonstrators stormed a café to accuse the owner of celebrating colonialism, sparking a debate which has even drawn in Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Stunned staff and visitors to the Blighty café in Blackstock Road ­witnessed chants from the 14 protesters who demanded the owner remove references to wartime leader Winston Churchill from inside the three-storey building on Saturday.

Members of the group are heard saying in a video filmed by café staff: “Churchill was a racist. We cannot accept the unashamed colonialising and gentrifying presence of this café.”

They also call on customers to boycott the café and for the owner to “apologise to the local community for their poorly thought and insensitive branding”.

The Blackstock Road café opened five years ago

References to the wartime prime minister are rife in Blighty – a slang term for Britain originating in colonial times – where the ­signature breakfast fry-up is called “the Winston” and guests can even dine next to a wax model of Churchill.

But café owner Chris Evans has hit back at protesters, saying he would have happily accepted a discussion with them about his design and theme.

Speaking about his use of Churchill’s image, Mr Evans told the Tribune: “It’s a case of whether you celebrate any human or not. There’s no way we can get into the nitty gritty of what he did or didn’t do. He did a lot of good things, he did a lot of bad things.”

He added: “You’ve got to be able to celebrate your history.”

Mr Evans, who launched the award-winning café five years ago and has lived in Finsbury Park for more than 15 years, said he was worried about further protests which may affect his business.

He said: “I’ve called the police and they told me take photos and record it. I would call the police again if they come back – they’re trespassing.”

Mr Evans rents out desk spaces to local entrepreneurs and the profits are used to help women in rural India launch small businesses.

When asked about his views on Britain’s former empire which Churchill fought to maintain, Mr Evans said: “My opinions on it are just like anything in history, it’s very nuanced, it’s silly to say it’s good or bad. It’s humanity. History is a very detailed thing you can talk for hours on. It’s like if I said to you, ‘what do you think about the Roman empire?’”

The protesters, several of whom were students from the School of African and Oriental Studies, also read out parts of a poem by the acclaimed poet Heathcote Williams. In his verse, Williams quotes Churchill who in 1937 said that “a stronger race, a higher grade race has come in and taken its place” when referencing the indigenous people of Australia and America.

Mr Johnson waded into the debate on Monday. In a social media post he called on Labour leader and Islington North MP Jeremy Corbyn to denounce the “hard-left mob” after the “disgraceful attack on our finest ever wartime leader”.

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