Earlier this month (November '21), Romford saw the opening of Aklu Plaza in our old Debenhams building.
The Debenhams site is, perhaps, one of the most important retail locations in our town. As I told the Romford Recorder; “By using the old Debenhams, the store operators have the largest and most important retail site in Romford. What they do there will set the tone for the whole town-centre.”
Aklu Plaza is proposed as a hubub of activity. The ground floor is set up as a grocery store, the first floor will host a prayer area and retail along with a food court. The second storey is proposed as a 1500 seater wedding hall.
I want Aklu Plaza to succeed, though I am not in favour of the wedding hall as this is not a suitable location. Parking, noise and other factors make this far from ideal.
That said, on visiting the store myself, I was disappointed by what I found.
During their opening week, Aklu Plaza held a 'Fish Mela (Sale)'. This attracted thousands to Romford, which should have been a good thing.
Unwrapped, frozen, fish being handled by dozens of customers. Some of the fish too large to fit in the freezer and, therefore, part sticking out. Worst of all was a plastic bucket of fish left open for anyone to grab from. I'll save you from seeing the picture.
I was also disappointed to find that every store announcement was made in a non-English language. Whilst there is no legal requirement to do this, my colleagues and I had received prior-assurances that Romford locals would be made to feel local and that the store would draw staff from across our diverse population.
I wasn't the only one concerned by what I saw. My inbox was flooded by complaints.
Many took to social media to call us 'racists' for complaining about the store.
I wrote to Aklu Plaza, using an email address that they had already replied to me on. My colleagues had previously arranged to visit their manager pre-opening, to secure certain assurances.
Unfortunately, Aklu Plaza did not respond to my letter. However subsequent visits to the store have shown me that some improvements have been made.
I will always stand up for my residents and for food standards across the ward. If anyone raised issues about any other store I would also take up those complaints. We cannot refuse to challenge one store, due to a fear of being called racist. We must hold everyone to the same standards.
You can read my letter to Mr Uddin, the store manager.