‘We are being punished’: Billion pound foundation plans to evict small businesses and charities for office development

A billion pound foundation is planning to evict small businesses and charities to build a borough’s biggest ever office development.

Old Paradise Yard, described as a hub of culture on the South Bank, hosts a number of small businesses out of a former Tibetan Buddhist Centre converted into a co-working space.

Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation has told tenants their leases will not be extended after January 30, despite previously promising that businesses could stay on the site until it was needed for demolition, for which there is currently no set date.

The foundation provides funding for Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Trust through the Evelina children’s fund and what are known as special purpose funds.

Matthew Demwell, 65, who lives 100 metres from Old Paradise Yard and represents residents in the area who will be affected by the redevelopment, said the foundation was “backtracking” to “punish” tenants for campaigning against the development.

Over the past two years, tenants have lobbied the council and the foundation over the development.

Candice Desmet and Matthew Demwell are fighting against the foundation’s evictions (Picture: Candice Desmet)

Mr Demwell said: “The Oasis farm next door has been in the same situation – but they are currently advertising for a new manager role for 12 months.

“The farm supported the development because they are willing to let the farm go – and they seem to have been given 12 extra months to stay. We are obviously being punished.”

Lambeth council approved the proposals, including five buildings that will stretch across an area the size of 27 football pitches, in December last year. 

But Secretary of State Michael Gove paused the plans in August to decide if an investigation was needed.

Despite the pause, tenants,  including the children’s charity Child Rights International Network, a drama school and a grass roots music venue established for more than nine years, along with more than 20 other small organisations, are being forced to leave.

Mr Demwell said: “It’s shocking. Right now we need housing, not offices. It’s a massively missed opportunity.

“I’m horrified by statements made by the foundation – claiming it’s going to create jobs. Most of the jobs going to local people will be low paid.

“Long-term jobs at office developments like these will be for highly-paid, high-qualified commuters.

“We are not against development just for it in a sustainable way for people and the environment. This development is going to release a tsunami of carbon into the atmosphere.”

Tenants said that such short notice eviction will result in small businesses “facing permanent closure and financial ruin”.

Mr Demwell said: “They are destroying people’s lives and the cultural heritage of this place.

“You can’t believe it when you walk into this tranquil green space in London. It’s irreplaceable.

“A lot of people in the area don’t have their own gardens. This place is vital for the community’s mental health.”

Businesses from Old Paradise Yard rallied outside the foundation’s headquarters in Central London (Picture: Rachelle Laurence)

Businesses from Old Paradise Yard and supporters from the community rallied outside the foundation’s headquarters in Loman Street, South Bank on Thursday of last week to protest its decision not to extend the lease. 

Candice Desmet, 35, runs 14 workshops a week for her bilingual French and English drama school Act’In Theatre from Old Paradise Yard.

She said: “We are living a real-life nightmare. At the start we were all shocked this was happening, and now we have run out of time suddenly.

“It’s horrible to treat small businesses that have survived Covid and the cost of living like this. I know it will cause me to lose clients.”

Nearly 50,000 people have signed a petition to save Old Paradise Yard. The campaign has also received the support of world heritage organisations including UNESCO advisers ICOMOS, Historic England and London Historic Parks.

Lambeth councillor Danny Adilypour, cabinet member for strategic growth and new homes, said: “The development of Royal Street will provide much-needed new affordable homes and revolutionise healthcare.

This will unlock a billion pounds of investment, create more than 6,000 new jobs and provide extensive benefits to the public, as we make Lambeth a home for future innovations in medical science.

“I hope the Secretary of State will now allow the planning application to progress so there’s no delay in bringing forward much-needed new affordable homes and a life science hub that will help to transform healthcare.”

A spokesman from Guy’s and St Thomas’ Foundation said: “The accusations made against the Foundation are untrue. The five-year lease in place at Old Paradise Yard ends in January 2024, and there has been no agreement to go beyond this date. As a Foundation we are proud of how the site has been temporarily put to use as a ‘meanwhile use’, rather than left vacant over a number of years.

“The lease was always coming to an end on 30 January 2024. This has not been influenced by any objections to future plans for the site. We are concerned to hear that some sub-leases appear to have been granted by the main tenant beyond this date.

 “We acknowledge the concerns of people and businesses, and we are offering all sub-tenants on the site a support package to assist in relocating.”

Pictured top: Candice Desmet and Matthew Demwell hold posters against the eviction at Old Paradise Yard (Picture: Candice Desmet)

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