Elephant & Castle: Mercato Metropolitano’s Good Work Standard

Elephant & Castle: Mercato Metropolitano’s Good Work Standard

Not everything a Mayor of London does – any Mayor of London – gets much mentioned from the media or is much noticed by the general public. Sadiq Khan’s Good Work Standard is an example of this. Launched in July 2019, it is an accreditation awarded to employers who meet a set of criteria in their treatment of their workers. These embrace pay and conditions, workplace practices, opportunities for career and skills development, and inclusive recruitment practices.

More than 150 London employers are now Good Work Standard accredited, which City Hall says benefits over 260,000 London workers. They are drawn from a variety of sectors, public and private, ranging from arts and culture (Museum of London, Event Concept), to health and social care (Penrose Care, Silver Birch Care), to property and housing (Canary Wharf Group, Gateway Housing Association).

Among those most recently admitted to the club is Mercato Metropolitano, a market-style dining and drinking enterprise which began in Milan in 2015 and now has four branches in the capital: Ilford, a church in Mayfair, Canary Wharf and, its first London location, on Newington Causeway near Elephant & Castle. Company founder and “chief executive dreamer” (his job title) Andrea Rasca, who had previously been involved with the launch of Eataly in Japan, set up there in 2016 on a former industrial site by then in the hands of housing association Peabody.

In January, I paid a visit and met Rasca there. “It was full of stray dogs and junkies,” he said of the location at the time Mercato moved in. Peabody was not in a position to develop the site and was willing to let it for nothing, initially for one year, enabling the creation of a “meanwhile space” and someone else paying the Business Rates. Rasca recalls there being “no water or electricity or heating”. It wasn’t a prime trading spot either, being a short walk from the Elephant roundabout. Rasca said that didn’t bother him: “I wanted a place with soul, a place with history, that I could turn into footfall.”

Nearly eight years later, Mercato Metropolitano is still there. All the food businesses in the hall – a rich array, including Mexican, Sri Lankan, Lebanese and, as you would expect, Italian – are small traders, and everyone who works there gets paid London Living Wage. Rasca said he helps some of the smaller ones by letting them pay a lower rent. They all have to sign up to a manifesto embracing sustainability and food as a human right.

The business’s survival through Covid – “I almost died as a business during the pandemic,” Rasca said, though Mercato provided food to local people on a charitable basis – and its subsequent recovery might be seen as a example of the ingenuity of London’s hospitality industry and the resilience of the city’s economy more broadly. Mercato’s Good Work Standard laurel is a recognition of values the current Mayor approves of, as underlined by his Night Czar, Amy Lamé who was also there and given a tour of the premises by Rasca.

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“Mercato Metropolitano have set the bar very high for other hospitality businesses in the capital,” she said, making special mention of its connections with the local community. “City Hall was particularly impressed with the outreach work they’ve done to encourage a diverse workforce, which is so important. What happens inside Mercato Metropolitano really does reflect the diversity of London as a whole.”

Its welcome extends to families with children who come in numbers on Saturday mornings, but Lamé’s primary concern is, of course, what goes on there between 6pm and 6am. “From a night time perspective, there are particular challenges for people that work at night,” she said. “There can be difficulty getting to and from work, your commute is longer, it’s often more expensive.”

Lamé was – and remains – positive about the hospitality sector’s post-Covid revival more generally: “You only need to go out in London any night of the week to realise it is heaving.” Yes, inflationary pressures have pushed up prices, “but I think there’s something for everyone”.

She described Mercato a good example. “You can grab a pretty affordable plate of curry and rice here,” she pointed out. “Or you can spend a hundred times that in a restaurant in Mayfair if that’s your pay packet. We have to make sure that London has something for everyone and I think that is what the industry is really responding to.”

The Newington Causeway site is now owned by Berkeley Group, which apparently doesn’t expect to put in a planning application for a couple more years. Rasca says Berkeley have told him that when the site is developed they want Mercato to stay. The improvised “meanwhile” feel of place would disappear absorbed within a new building. It is, though, to be hoped that its soul and standards would survive.

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Categories: Culture

1 Comment

  1. Jane B says:

    “The Newington Causeway site is now owned by Berkeley Group, which apparently doesn’t expect to put in a planning application for a couple more years.”

    Pre-application consultation has very much ‘live’ through 2023. With community and councils told, as of February 2024, to expect an Application (upto 44 stories) “this Spring”, i.e in the coming weeks.

    Kanda not necessarily a facts-based intermediary 🙂


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