Page 1

Saima’s story


The Lewisham Ledger I S S U E 4 | D E C E M B E R 2 0 1 8/J A N U A RY 2 0 1 9

The Brockley restaurateur battling cancer PA G E S 12 , 13

Forward thinking

Rap, rhyme and reason with Thales PAG E 1 5

Robust roots

Achieving goals on and off the pitch PA G E S 26 , 27

Fashioning a future The Forest Hill resident inspiring others PAGE 24



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9


Welcome to The Lewisham Ledger, a free newspaper for the borough. s ever, we’d like to say a big thank you to all the brilliant local businesses, organisations and people who have supported our first four issues through advertising this year, helping us to keep the Ledger in print. At 44 pages, this issue is our biggest edition yet. We personally hand deliver every single copy of the paper to more than 150 stockists across the borough, with a full list available to view here: We now have dedicated newspaper stands at Lewisham Library and at Goldsmiths, where you can find hundreds of copies each time. If you are a reader responding to an advert in this issue, we would be very grateful if you could let the relevant business know where you heard about them, as it encourages people to continue advertising with us. And if you’re a business who would like to learn more about how we can promote what you do across Lewisham and beyond – both in print and online – please drop us a line at We’ve now started work on issue five, which will be published in early February and will have a special focus on Brockley. To keep in touch in the meantime, please follow us on social media, read our blog or send us a message via the aforementioned email address. Finally, on behalf of all the team at The Lewisham Ledger, we wish our readers a very merry Christmas and a happy new year!


Mark McGinlay and Kate White

The Lewisham Ledger

More than 3,500 Christmas trees have been sold to help the homeless by King's Christmas Trees

Christmas trees for a good cause Whether you prefer a tinsel-tastic tree bedecked with blinging baubles and flashing lights, or like to keep things simple with traditional ornaments and a star, a Christmas tree is guaranteed to spread some seasonal good cheer. And if you haven’t bought yours yet, then it’s not too late to snap up a spruce from King’s Christmas Trees – a Lewisham-based social action project that is aiming to sell hundreds of trees to help the homeless this winter. The team behind the feel-good festive initiative, which is run by King’s Church London, said they are gearing up for their busiest Christmas yet as they celebrate 10 years since they launched in 2008. The trees they sell are premium, freshly cut Nordmann firs, which are sourced from sustainable growers based in Scotland. Nordmanns are the most popular type of Christmas tree because they retain their needles well and have glossy, deep green foliage. All cash made from the sales of trees is used to provide hot meals for homeless people through the Jericho Road Project, which was founded in 2001 to

Cover photograph Karen Arthur by Lima Charlie at Editors Mark McGinlay, Kate White Creative directors Andy Keys, Marta Pérez Sainero Type designers Photographer Lima Charlie Features editor Emma Finamore Sub-editor Jack Aston

alleviate poverty on the streets of southeast London. During the past nine years, King’s has seen the number of trees ordered by customers grow significantly. It has sold 3,545 trees to date and is aiming to supply a record-breaking 700 spruces to residents and businesses this year. The team said the most popular size of tree is six or seven feet, which always sell out first. But they also supply trees to schools, colleges and large-scale organisations, with sizes ranging up to 10 feet. “King’s Christmas Trees started in order to raise money to provide meals for people in need, as well as to increase awareness about rough sleeping in our community,” said Simon Allen, director of the Jericho Road Project and founder of King’s Christmas Trees. “We also wanted a business that our residents and contacts could be directly involved in, where they could learn work skills and build confidence. It’s been amazing to see how the project has grown over the years and how the south-east London community has come together to help those in need.” The trees can be ordered online and then collected or delivered to customers’ homes by King’s Christmas Trees volunteers, many of whom have benefited from the Jericho Road Project’s work themselves. The proceeds provide a hot Christmas meal – known as “the feast” – for up to 140 homeless people every Wednesday night. Last year the project served 4,500 three-course festive feasts, in addition

Contributors Rosario Blue, Julie Bull, Helen Graves, Seamus Hasson, Ronnie Haydon, Louise Kimpton-Nye, Alexander McBride Wilson, Peter Rhodes, Colin Richardson, Nikki Spencer, Paul Stafford, Rebecca Thomson, Luke G Williams, John Yabrifa Marketing and social media Mark McGinlay

to providing emergency food packs and housing advice to clients. One volunteer for the charity said: “I love volunteering for King’s Christmas Trees. It’s incredible to know that each person who buys a tree is buying multiple meals for people who really need it. “I also volunteer at the feast on Wednesday nights and it’s amazing to see the journey from tree purchase to food delivered. It is such a great project.” King’s Christmas Trees has excellent eco credentials, with trees sourced from farms that are members of the British Christmas Tree Growers Association (BCTGA), which ensures high environmental standards. They produce oxygen when they are growing and when they are recycled after Christmas, via a kerbside collection or at your local recycling centre, they are as near to 100% carbon neutral as you can get. “Real Christmas trees are absolutely the solution to environmental sustainability,” said Roger Hay from the BCTGA. “Absorbing carbon dioxide and giving off oxygen during the growing cycle, [they are] completely recyclable after use. “The real tree compares with the artificial tree, which is manufactured from plastic and metal on the other side of the world and will lie in a landfill site for hundreds of years. Think of the planet when you buy your tree.” To order your Christmas tree from King’s Christmas Trees this year, visit

Editorial and advertising Follow us @lewishamledger @lewishamledger @lewishamledger



Bang out of order Greenwich council has been accused of failing to pay its fair share towards Blackheath Fireworks again this year – leaving Lewisham to foot a hefty chunk of the bill. The border of the two boroughs runs through the middle of Blackheath, where the spectacular event attracts up to 100,000 visitors each year. It is enjoyed by residents of Lewisham, Greenwich and beyond and brings a welcome boost to the local economy. Last year’s event cost £109,000, of which £40,000 came from Lewisham Council and £15,000 from Greenwich. A further £23,000 was raised through sponsorship from businesses, £22,000 from bars and food stalls and £9,000 from public donations. Both councils had previously split the costs equally but in 2010, Greenwich withdrew its funding from the event, stating that it could no longer afford to pay its half due to cuts in government funding. While Greenwich did come back on board as a sponsor five years later, its contributions each year are significantly lower than the amount paid by Lewisham. This year it gave £16,000 towards the event, while Lewisham paid around £40,000. In an email that was sent to Greenwich council on August 15 ahead of this year’s fireworks, an officer from Lewisham Council confirmed that “costs are likely to be very similar to last year” and asked if Greenwich would consider in-

Blackheath Fireworks attracts up to 100,000 visitors every year

creasing its contribution to the display. The officer added: “We are under increasing pressure to try and bring our subsidy down so if there was any way you could consider an increase in your contribution, it would be greatly appreciated.” The correspondence came to light following a freedom of information re-

quest to Lewisham Council by Caroline Pidgeon, London Assembly member for the Liberal Democrats. She said: “In years past the two councils fully shared the costs of this important event. “It seems that now Lewisham Council has even given up asking Greenwich to share the full costs. Lewisham residents

should be demanding that their council finally stands up to its neighbouring borough.” When asked why it was not prepared to split the cost of the fireworks equally with Lewisham, a spokesman for Greenwich council sent The Lewisham Ledger a joint statement issued by Lewisham and Greenwich councils. It said: “Lewisham Council appreciates the contribution that the Royal Borough of Greenwich has made towards the Blackheath Fireworks this year, which is all that they were asked to pay. “The future of the fireworks is under threat due to government cuts and both councils are being forced to make significant cutbacks. “As the squeeze on councils continues, and with austerity far from over, both Lewisham and Greenwich need to cut tens of millions from budgets over the next two years. “The event is the largest free fireworks event in London, attracting crowds of up to 100,000 from across the city. “It’s not about who has paid more in previous years but the harsh reality that councils are being forced to cut local services and events because our funding is being continually slashed by government. “Lewisham Council is looking at all avenues to provide more funding and welcomes the fact that the Royal Borough of Greenwich is committed to sit down and discuss the future of the event.”



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9


Celebrating 50 years of activism in Lewisham A fascinating booklet documenting 50 years of community action in the borough of Lewisham has been published. The pamphlet, which was created by Voluntary Action Lewisham (VAL), features stories of community activism from the 1960s to the present day. It includes the rich history of VAL and other local groups and activists. Volunteers spoke to many inspiring individuals who have helped shape Lewisham into the place it is today. VAL trustee the Reverend Canon Charles Pickstone, of St Laurence’s church in Catford, said: “After 1968, the world was changing. Community activism was becoming a big exciting place to be. It was the sense of optimism and the sense that things could be transformed if enough people got together and broke down barriers.” Another interviewee is Doris Smith, who was born in Lower Sydenham in

1930. Doris has campaigned for most of her life on causes close to her heart, and is a longstanding committee member of the Lewisham Pensioners Forum. She discussed the All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism and how they marched against the National Front, “supporting the diversity of Lewisham and the mixture of people that we have living here”. Woodrow Phoenix spoke about his mother Dame Sybil Phoenix, a Lewisham legend and the first black woman to receive an MBE. Born in Guyana, Sybil moved to the UK in the 1950s. In 1962 she and her husband Joe settled in Brockley, where they fostered hundreds of children for the council. Sybil went on to found the Moonshot youth club and the Young Mothers’ Project, which helped young mums with no support. When the club was burnt down in a suspected attack by the National Front, she vowed to rebuild it and did.

Above: All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism pamphlet COURTESY OF DORIS SMITH

Sybil and Joe also founded the Marsha Phoenix Memorial Trust, a supported housing project for single and homeless young women that is based on Tressillian Road. The Irie dance theatre is developing a project about the story of the Moonshot Centre to follow on from Woodrow’s interview in the booklet. Last year VAL moved from its Catford home of 50 years to manage the Mulberry Centre in New Cross, which is transforming into a hub for social action where people can get engaged and forge strong partnerships.

From its new base, VAL aims to continue to strengthen the voice of voluntary action and activism in the borough for another 50 years and beyond. VAL’s Mark Drinkwater said: “There are over 800 voluntary and community organisations in the borough. VAL wanted to celebrate 50 years of community action – both the work it has done and the community organisations it has helped support.” To hear audio interviews and read the booklet, go to



Surreal shots turned into a book A Telegraph Hill-based photographer and writer has published a brilliant book of street photography and accompanying stories that he has described as a “love letter” to the medium. Sparks by Stephen Leslie consists of 80 arresting images that were taken over the course of many years, both in the UK and around the world. The eclectic photographs and the stories that surround them are in turn surprising, dark, poignant and comic. The book puts a different slant on street photography that is both entertaining and thought-provoking at the same time. Stephen, who is a screenwriter by day, said he never has any specific subject matter in mind when taking photographs. “I love what I do because I never know what the hell I’m going to see – and that’s the joy of it,” he said. “I could leave the house today, see something and take a photo of it that I will then be looking at for years to come. Or I could leave the house today and see nothing of any worth or value. “The reason I’ve got the archive that I’ve got is because I’ve literally taken my camera out with me every single time I’ve left the house for the last 20 years.”

Walking in a window wonderland

Photographer Stephen Leslie captured this image in Telegraph Hill

The photograph above was taken on Drakefell Road in Telegraph Hill. “The traffic on Drakefell Road is insane and there’s a width restriction that isn’t very well signposted,” Stephen said. “This is going to turn into a local rant, but every day an oversized lorry tries to go down the road, realises it can’t get through the width restriction and then has to reverse back. “What happened here was a lorry had done exactly that – it reversed back, tried to turn on the tiny roundabout and tipped over its load. I went out with my camera as I do, this woman came out of nowhere and I took the photo. “That’s the thing – the reality behind a lot of photos is very banal, but it’s the image that is interesting afterwards and what it makes you think of. Photography is all about taking things out of context.”

Two corners of Catford will be turned into giant advent calendars in the countdown to Christmas, with front windows lit up to reveal a festive display each night from December 1-24. More than 60 households from the Culverley Green and Corbett Estate areas are taking part in this year’s event, transforming the streets into a wonderland of windows. Every night at least one new window will be illuminated, treating passersby and those following the twinkling trails to a dazzling display of festive flair. They will continue to light up until Christmas Eve, when the full set of windows in each area will be available to admire. Roz Apweiler, who is coordinating the Corbett Estate windows this year, said: “The event really pulls the estate together and it’s something that everybody can enjoy, whether you’re making a window or you’re going round to see what you can spot each day.” Roz has produced a special walking map that is available to pick up in the Archibald Corbett Community Library on Torridon Road and in local shops, so people can follow the trail. Photos of the windows as they are lit up will also be posted on the Corbett Residents’ Association Facebook page

Tanisha wins mayor's award A young Lewisham resident has been honoured by the mayor of London for her work in tackling youth violence. Tanisha Barrett-Thomas, a volunteer with local charity For Jimmy, won a Young Londoner Award for her efforts to engage the community around the issue. The award is a new category at the mayor’s annual Team London Awards, which celebrates individuals and groups who make an outstanding contribution to their communities and help to make London the best city it can be. Tanisha, who recently came fourth in the Lewisham young mayor election and is now a deputy young parliament representative, has been involved with For Jimmy since 2011. She has worked across its 10,000 Hands project and on the Safe Havens programme, where public spaces such as shops display a sticker in their window and agree to provide a safe space for young people who feel unsafe. Most recently she has represented the charity as a Young Citizen and took a lead role in the organisation of the 2018 Lewisham Safety Conference, which was held by For Jimmy in partnership with Prendergast School. Key to her involvement was her work on tackling youth violence across Lewisham, where her experiences of being a young person in the borough have made her take a proactive approach to overcoming the issue. She gave up her time to travel around different schools in Lewisham as an ambassador on behalf of For Jimmy, where she assisted her peers in articulating their thoughts on youth violence and safety and presenting their ideas at the conference. Her efforts were crucial in giving the young people of Lewisham a voice to

Volunteer Tanisha Barrett-Thomas (left) at the mayor's Team London Awards

express their opinions and concerns to various community leaders from local authorities and agencies that are committed to the protection of young people from Lewisham. Tanisha said she has also helped to make her community safer by arranging meetings with police officers, allowing young people “to inform them about concerns and begin changes”.

For Jimmy was founded by the Mizen family following the murder of their 16-year-old son Jimmy in 2008. Determined that something good should come of his death, the charity works tirelessly to create a legacy of peace in Jimmy’s name. It aims to help young people fulfil their potential and strives to create safer communities where they can thrive.

so that everyone can see them even if they’re not able to get out and about. Jana Smith, who has led the Culverley Green event for the last three years, said there are 40 households taking part this year in her area, which is a record. “People love it,” she said. “It’s been a really great way for people to meet their neighbours and it has spurred on other meet-ups. “Everyone is welcome to join in. Some people are artists and do amazing windows, and other people do things with their kids or something more simple. “A lot of people go for a walk around to see all the houses. We get people from Culverley Green and from other parts of Catford too, so it’s a really nice event for the whole community.”

A brightly coloured advent window in the Culverley Green area

Have your say on local democracy Residents, businesses and community groups across the borough are being urged to have their say in Lewisham Council’s review of local democracy. The consultation is the first review of how the council works in 16 years and was a key promise in mayor Damien Egan’s election manifesto. A report on the findings and recommendations to make Lewisham more open, democratic and transparent will be presented to full council early next year. Councillor Kevin Bonavia, cabinet member for democracy, refugees and accountability, said: “Council services touch the lives of everyone in the borough and so do the decisions the council takes. “With the government cutting our funding by 60% in the last eight years, now, more than ever, we want people to be more informed, involved and empowered in the decisions that affect their lives.” The Lewisham Ledger has previously highlighted how, unlike neighbouring borough Southwark, Lewisham Council does not display public comments on planning applications on its website, despite having a public comments tab that suggests comments will be visible. It means that to the casual observer, controversial planning applications will appear to have received no objections in the run-up to a decision being made, even though this may not be the case. Anyone wishing to see comments must instead request a copy from the council. Visit before December 31 to take part in the review





restaurant & wine bar











D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9


Homes returned to social housing Homes in south Lewisham that were sold through the right to buy scheme are being returned to social housing in a new “buyback” initiative by Phoenix Community Housing. Phoenix, which is London’s only resident-led housing association, said the project is aimed at restoring good quality homes at low rent in order to tackle the shortage of social housing in the borough. It has so far completed the purchase of three right to buy properties, with a further 12 in the pipeline. Phoenix manages 6,300 homes in the Downham, Bellingham and Whitefoot wards and will shortly be writing to all of its 1,000 leaseholders to advise them of the options for selling back their properties. It said the programme is particularly focused on two-bedroom homes, which are needed by around 4,000 Lewisham households currently on the borough’s housing waiting list. Phoenix has also started to roll out a new programme of development in south Lewisham following a £60 million investment earlier this year. It will fund around 200 new homes, with flexibility for a much larger development programme over the coming years. Phoenix chief executive Jim Ripley said: “There’s an ongoing housing crisis in Lewisham and across London, and an acute shortage of social housing. We want to support Lewisham Council and other partners in tackling this issue by

Hazelhurst Court resident Denise Evans (left) and her family

every means possible, and I’m pleased that we’re starting to restore homes back to low rents. “We respect the right of residents to use the right to buy, but the fact is, we will never be able to replace each of these homes with new social

housing, particularly given the cost and availability of land. “Our buyback scheme offers an easy and practical way for leaseholders to sell their properties and ensure they can be enjoyed by families and individuals who are in desperate need of a decent home.”

Festive finds at secret shop

Disco delight A retro club night aimed at those in their 40s, 50s and beyond is bringing the boogie to Blackheath, with a night of 70s and 80s soul, funk and disco. Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet (HSDY) will return to the recently reopened Blackheath Halls with vinyl DJs, dance line-ups and glitter galore. Hula-hooping vinyl DJ Da’Lynne and Auntie Maureen will be on the decks playing classic floor-fillers that everyone knows and loves. There will be a “best outfit” catwalk competition, eco-friendly glitter face-painting, retro sweets and ice pops. Founder and Hither Green resident Nikki Spencer said she started HSDY in her 40s so she could go out dancing without feeling like she was gatecrashing one of her teenage daughters’ parties. The atmosphere is fun, welcoming and non-judgmental, with tunes from

the likes of Chic, Chaka Khan, Sylvester and Sister Sledge to name but a few. “Most clubs are aimed at people in their early 20s, but the fact is, most people don’t stop wanting to go out dancing when they hit their 40s and 50s and the popularity of HSDY shows that – although everyone over 18 is welcome,” Nikki said. “Some people bring their grown-up kids or vice versa. It is such a great night with a real feel-good vibe. Our Big Xmas Disco Ball at Blackheath Halls is our biggest event and we are very excited to be back there again after it closed for a major refurbishment.” The Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet Big Xmas Disco Ball is on December 8, 7.30pm-12am at Blackheath Halls, 23 Lee Road. Tickets cost £15 in advance or £18 on the door, with 10% of profits donated to Cancer Research. Book via

The Haven't Stopped Dancing Yet Big Xmas Disco Ball is back

The news follows the official opening of the first new housing development by Phoenix. Hazelhurst Court is a development of 60 new homes in Southend that provides independent living for older people. Designed by architects Levitt Bernstein and built with funding contributions from the mayor of London and Lewisham Council, the development has won a top prize from the Royal Institute of British Architects. Resident Phebe Deeble said: “I was amazed when I first saw my flat, because it was so big, so light, so beautiful and so quiet. Since moving in it has been marvellous. I think I’ve found my utopia really – I couldn’t wish for any better.” To celebrate the opening, more than 40 paintings created by Hazelhurst Court residents as part of a new weekly art class – including the work pictured above – went on display in a special exhibition.

Lewisham Library on Lewisham High Street

Library could be rebuilt

Lewisham Council is considering rebuilding Lewisham Library. The library was opened in a converted telephone exchange in the 1990s and according to the council, the building requires significant investment. It will look at options such as building new rented, council-owned homes to help pay for a new library. Plans to relocate the library while improvements are made are also being considered. Lewisham mayor Damien Egan said: “I have asked for a feasibility study to consider options for rebuilding Lewisham Library. I want to make sure our libraries are fit for the future and protect our service for future generations to learn and grow. “Despite huge reductions in funding from the government, I am committed to ensuring that no library in Lewisham is closed.” Lewisham’s funding has been reduced by 60% since 2010 and the council must cut another £30 million by 2021. The proposed cuts to the library service will be put on hold until the results of this feasibility study have been announced.

Three Catford residents are opening a pop-up Christmas store for one weekend in December, to help people get their festive shopping wrapped up. Printmaker Hazel Nicholls, interior designer Ellie Weidman and textile designer Sophie Dias will open the seasonal shop at an address on the Corbett Estate in SE6. There will be a wide variety of gifts on sale, including cushions, blankets, prints, slippers, socks, books, planters, children’s clothes, soaps, edible treats, stocking fillers, ceramics, reusable cups and more. Provenance is paramount to the trio, who have sourced their products from small businesses. Gifts will range in price from a couple of pounds to £55. Sophie said: “We have invested all our own money into stock we believe the community will really enjoy. On arrival customers will be greeted by the twinkling lights of Christmas trees and the warmth of Swedish fire logs.” The Catford Christmas store is open December 1-2 from 10am-6pm. For the address, contact the shop on Instagram @thecatfordchristmasstore or email

10 N EWS

Story writer makes every word count A Lewisham Hospital worker has been named runner-up in a prestigious writing competition that attracted more than 1,700 entries. Jim Gleeson came second in the 2018 Bridport Prize flash fiction contest for his story Nan. He wrote the piece after reading a newspaper report about paramilitary “punishment” shootings and beatings in Northern Ireland, which have risen by 60% in the last four years. “It goes on but it doesn’t make the mainstream news over here,” Jim said. “It just struck me and made an impression on me.” The piece was originally 500 words long, but the word limit for the competition was just 250. “I had to really hack it down and leave the bare bones,” said Jim, who usually writes short stories of around 2,000 words or more. “You can say an awful lot and you can go off in various different directions if you have two or three thousand words to play with,” he said. “You can chuck in the kitchen sink to a point. But with flash fiction, less is more and it’s all about the brevity. There’s no room for flannel.” Judge and esteemed novelist Monica Ali praised Nan as a story that is “perfectly weighted and freighted, the terse lines of dialogue judged perfectly too”. Jim was born in Tipperary in 1961. He spent time travelling before moving to

London in the early 1990s and has been writing for many years. His work has been published in the Borderline Stories anthology, long-listed for the London Short Story Prize in 2016 and shortlisted for the Mairtin Crawford Short Story Award at Belfast Book Festival in 2018. The Bridport Prize is one of the most highly regarded open writing competitions in the English language, with categories including poetry, short stories, flash fiction and first novels. The prize is seen as a tremendous literary stepping stone and has helped launch the careers of Kate Atkinson, Tobias Hill, Kit de Waal and Helen Dunmore. It is open to anyone, as long as the submitted work is previously unpublished. Jim works in admin in the pharmacy department at Lewisham Hospital and has lived in Catford, near to Ladywell Fields, for 20 years. He said he has seen the area change a lot. “I remember when Ladywell Fields was a dumping ground for stolen mopeds,” he said. “You had to clear out of the way on a Sunday afternoon when you were walking the dog, because they’d come flying through and then they’d chuck the mopeds in the canal when they were finished with them. “It’s different now; it’s definitely improved and there’s more going on.”

Short story writer Jim Gleeson in Ladywell Fields PHOTO BY PAUL STAFFORD

Nan by Jim Gleeson

ranny Coulter sat with prayer beads round her knuckles, her cup cold between her fingers, killing time. The boss men wanted her grandson outside in 20 minutes. He was hunched on the couch in her little front room, racing cars on a laptop, hadn’t said much since she’d taken in his favourite meal. If that boy had stuck to playing games, she might not be waiting to walk him out when the van arrived, might not have had the call. “That boy took the wrong car this time. We know your stock, we’ll go easy once, it’ll only be the one knee, but that wee pup better learn. Bring him out at nine. If we have to come looking we’ll do the pair of them.”


It takes a lot of bottle There’s a party taking place at 2 Catford Broadway on December 12 – and everyone is invited. Xhulio Sina and his wife Natalie John, owners of Bottle Bar and Shop, are celebrating their first year in business and are hosting a special event to mark the occasion. Attending the celebration will be renowned local photographer Luke Agbaimoni, aka Tube Mapper, who will unveil an exhibition of his work that will be on display over the next two months. There will also be free cake from Catford cakemaker Claire Owen. For Xhulio and Natalie, the anniversary is testament to their hard work and vision. “We’ve been living in Catford for five years now,” Xhulio said. “As a local resident I thought, ‘Why not give something to the local community?’” Bottle Bar and Shop specialises in bottling a range of new and classic cocktails. In addition to their own delicious drinks, they sell a selection of craft beers, ales and spirits that can be bought to take away or enjoyed on the premises. Xhulio said: “I love bottling cocktails, I love mixing cocktails, I love seeing customers smiling and tasting my drinks.” Xhulio has spent almost 20 years in the industry, working in and managing high-profile bars in the West End including Mayfair’s Sketch. His first break as a mixologist came at Quo Vadis in Soho, when he was asked

to make a cocktail for Elton John and Madonna. “The waiter came along and said they wanted a cosmopolitan,” he explains. “I had never made one before and ended up with quite a big measurement for just one drink. I don’t know if they liked it or not but they didn’t order another,” he laughs. Since opening Bottle Bar and Shop, Xhulio spends his mornings mixing and bottling his own cocktails, helped by his colleague Hannah. Meanwhile Natalie takes care of the marketing, social media, website and communications. Xhulio said that as a business with no outdoor space, the biggest challenge he faced in his first year was the unexpectedly hot summer and the World Cup. “Who would ever have thought that England would go so far?” he said. In just one year Bottle Bar and Shop has amassed an impressive four awards, including “most loved bar” in Catford at the Time Out Love London Awards in May. They also supply a number of local businesses with their cocktails. “We wouldn’t have survived for a year if it wasn’t for our lovely customers,” Xhulio said. “We’re very grateful and thankful to everyone in the area for their support and also to Team Catford.”

Xhulio Sina, owner of Bottle Bar and Shop PHOTO BY PAUL STAFFORD

Join Xhulio and Natalie to celebrate the first-year anniversary of Bottle Bar and Shop, 2 Catford Broadway, on December 12 from 2-11pm

He’d learn all right, every twisted step would be a lesson. Outside, small boys played football, swinging their legs and squealing with the joy of it. She remembered the feathery weight and the smell of him, that beautiful boy, and thinking of the savage hurt to come almost broke her in two, but she stayed silent. She wouldn’t weep, wish that life was different, knock on the church door for a quiet word or call the police, wouldn’t waste her time. A van rumbled up outside, revving, with too much business and too many other boys to linger long. “It’s time,” she said, “but I’ll be here.” “Nan”, he said, then he was gone. She closed the door and waited for the hospital call.

Businesses lauded at local awards The best of local business was celebrated at the mayor of Lewisham’s Business Awards in November. The seven winners were chosen by a panel of judges including professional business advisers. Aga’s Little Deli in Forest Hill won best food and drink, Aldworth James & Bond in Deptford won best creative business, Ignition Brewery in Sydenham took home best independent business and Parlez in Brockley was named best environmental champion. Bottle Bar and Shop in Catford won best London living wage employer, Rodney’s Cake House won best new business and yoga instructor Sarah Lucy was named best business person. Damien Egan, mayor of Lewisham, said: “It was a really difficult process to decide who won and each nominated business should be immensely proud for being shortlisted in what was our strongest year for nominations. “Lewisham has the highest number of small [and] micro businesses within London and one of the largest groups of employees within the borough are those listed as self-employed. Our community relies on these thriving and innovative local businesses.”

12 FOOD meet Saima Thompson at Masala Wala Cafe, the Pakistani restaurant she launched in 2015 as a way of celebrating her mother’s home cooking. “Right, we need to talk about your amazing skirt”, she beams as I walk through the door, before hugging me like an old friend. She’s incredibly warm, and it’s easy to see how she’s built a career in hospitality. The restaurant has become a Brockley institution and a project she was charging full steam ahead with, until she received a shocking diagnosis: stage four lung cancer at the age of 29. “It came as a complete shock to the family,” Saima tells me. “It wasn’t part of my business plan as you can imagine.” Now, she’s using social media and a new website,, to tell her story, in the hope it will help her and others to deal with the diagnosis. Masala Wala opened in March 2015 with just five tables. “It was my first business and my mother had never really worked, so it was creating an employment opportunity for her, an immigrant Pakistani mother of four girls. I’m the oldest, so I’m the bossiest and I was like, ‘Hey Mum, I think your food is good enough to share’. “There are a lot of standard curry houses in the industry and I felt there was room for some home cooking. People are well travelled now – they’ve been to India and Pakistan and they get to know the genuine flavours. “In London there’s very much a craving for authenticity and I thought, ‘Let’s do this, let’s offer authentic home cuisine’. So the idea was no naan breads, no poppadums, no chicken



Saima Thompson was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer aged just 29. The inspirational restaurateur, who owns Masala Wala Cafe, tells us why she refuses to let it stand in her way WORDS BY HELEN GRAVES n PHOTOS BY JOHN YABRIFA

tikka and all that palaver. Let’s just serve what my mother cooked – homestyle curries, roti breads, basmati rice, salads and fresh, nourishing food.” The small menu changes every month, which minimises waste and allows the restaurant to cook fresh, every day. “This month we have kofta masala, which is lamb meatballs, and we’ve also got chicken, beetroot and pea on the menu. That isn’t a traditional dish but we’re working with British produce and it’s seasonal; beetroot is fantastic right now. British ingredients and Pakistani flavours.” Her diagnosis has meant lots of changes for the business however. “It

took the rug from under my feet but you know, I’ve got wonderful sisters and they’ve kind of split my job role among themselves. “Going forward we’re organising some fundraisers and that’s my way of bringing my worlds together. We are working with cancer charities such as Trekstock, who help people in their 20s and 30s with cancer to get moving, and we’re also planning a supper club at Darjeeling Express in central London. “Oh, and I’m doing another fundraiser at the restaurant for Wigs for Heroes. I’m coming up with new ways all the time, because your brain doesn’t stop when you get sick, right?” One of the hardest challenges for Saima has been the increased sensitivity of her taste buds and the pain from treatment, which left her unable to eat properly. “I had stomatitis, which is inflammation of the mouth and lips, because they started me on quite a high dose of treatment along with radiotherapy, which actually prevents you from swallowing properly. You’re really in a lot of pain. Anything that’s acidic or any sort of spice was a no-no, so I had to eat a very bland diet. “I’d grown up with curry, the first thing I’d eaten was spicy food when I was three or four years old. I thought, ‘Is this actually happening?’ I was heartbroken because food is my life, it’s my career and it’s the path I’ve chosen. Now I’m on a more tolerable dose so I can eat more food again, so that’s great. It’s a blessing.” She’s also changed her approach to cooking, choosing different foods and learning to listen to what her body is craving. “I love cooking at home and



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9 Saima Thompson inside her Brockley Cross restaurant Masala Wala Cafe

I’m looking for ways to nourish my body because of my illness. A lot of the time as a restaurateur you end up eating the food out of the kitchen, but now I’m cooking three whole meals at home and experimenting more. “I try and eat a little lighter and I’m looking to get more vegetables, less meat and carbohydrates. It’s not extreme changes, it’s just stuff that makes you feel good. I’m really listening to my body for the first time. I would say before I was a bit of a workhorse. Now I put myself first and really think about my health and where I’m at.” She’s found great comfort, too, in the local community and has also made new friends online. “I started writing a blog,, which is my way of putting down my thoughts. It’s therapy for me but it’s kind of turned into this thing where people have really appreciated it.

Even though I have this diagnosis, it's not going to limit me or stop me doing what I want to do

“I began writing about different subjects, so I started with culture, then I started thinking about love – I wrote a love letter to my husband Gareth. We got married this year, in August, so yeah, good things are happening. “I also wrote about food and my experience of losing taste, and how that felt. I’ve spoken about mental health because I actually experienced panic attacks after the diagnosis, just out of sheer fear. The unknown, it’s such a new world, how do you manage? I took it quite badly. Now I’m a lot better. I’ve been exercising and meditating. “Obviously I’ve had to live with the fact that it is incurable, but I always have the same approach, which is, how can I make this work? How can I live with this? “Initially I had a lot of guilt and I felt quite ashamed. As a restaurateur, I felt like, how can I have lung cancer? I serve food. I felt like sickness and food does not bind well. But at the end of the day I’m human, we’re all on the same journey. “I always look at the best side of things and I do look for solutions. I’m a bit of a fixer! It’s the way I approach business, it’s the way I approach life. Even when it came to cancer I was like, how do I fix this?” Support from her family has been crucial. “What’s been nice is that my younger sister has moved home from Manchester, so she’s closer to the family now and we’re all a lot closer. Spending a lot more time together, quality time, has helped lots.” She’s also very grateful to the Lewisham community, who supported the business through several attempted break-ins right at the time of her diagnosis. “We had a crowdfunder recently for new shutters, and we reached our target within 15 hours. We had a couple of attempted break-ins and we lost income and we had to pay for things to be replaced. “A couple of women from the community, Jane Martin and Nicola Jones, they basically set up this campaign and the community raised the money. For shutters you’re looking at £3,000 and we just don’t have that sort of money because it’s all tied up. We are a running business. “It gave me a lot of courage because to be honest, as a restaurateur I’ve thought about closing, with the tough climate. There’s a lot of uncertainty over spending from Brexit, so we’ve seen a bit of a crunch in terms of regularity of custom. “Restaurant closures are happening across London. I’m not going to pretend everything’s OK. So that was so encouraging and the outpouring of love and the shutters happening, it was amazing.” It’s easy to see why the restaurant gained so much support from the local community as I eat a bowl of kofta masala – delicious lamb meatballs in a richly spiced sauce, perfect for scooping up with fresh roti. Even better is her auntie’s carrot pickle – hot, crunchy and addictive. I make a note to ask her for the recipe. More than the food however, it’s Saima’s positivity and determination to succeed that shines. “I’m still an entrepreneur, I’m still a businesswoman and even though I have this diagnosis, it’s not going to limit me. It’s not going to stop me doing what I want to do.”


MUS IC 1 5

D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

day after returning from Germany, where he has been recording new music, Thales sits down with me to talk fresh tracks, supporting Rag’n’Bone Man on his European tour, the real versus the fake and the struggles of following your dreams. Influenced by UK OGs such as Roots Manuva, Skinnyman and Blak Twang, as well as American hip-hop artists like Mos Def, Talib Kweli and Common, Thales brings that sound to UK hip-hop that I as a seasoned UK hip-hop fan love – a mixture of soothing jazz and piano-laced beats. With lyrics like “if money is your drive then your mind’s limited, never limit mine, I’m trying to find what its limit is”, you feel like you’re listening to poetry. His lyricism is solid and authentic like the values he holds. Thales has been writing music since the age of 13. His love affair with hip-hop began at seven after watching his uncle, a b-boy, practising breakdancing in his gran’s back garden. Thales owns and cherishes his uncle’s silver ghetto blaster. “My uncle would be breakdancing and I’d see that and hear the tapes,” he recalls. “It wasn’t really hip-hop then though, because hip-hop hadn’t really come here in that way. It was more like breakbeats or whatever, ’cause this was like [the] 80s. I just used to see that as a kid and I loved the breakbeats.” Thales was blown away by hip-hop the first time he heard it. As a child he thought it must have been illegal because of the language used in the songs; and since no one really had money for original copies, his belief appeared to be true. “You never saw the original; someone was just doing a tape for you and, like, people used to buy and sell and swap tapes at school.” It wasn’t until the early 90s, after the release of Dr Dre’s seminal album The Chronic and Snoop Dogg’s legendary Doggystyle, that Thales finally saw a real copy in the flesh. “That was the first time I’d seen physical copies of this music and I thought, ‘Wow, this is crazy’.” The quality of Thales’ writing was, at the start, “s***”, by his own admission, because he was regurgitating what he had been hearing, which was mainly American hip-hop that didn’t reflect his personal experiences. “In the beginning it wasn’t really about the words; it was just the feel, the music, the flow or whatever,” he says. At the time his writing was mainly focused on technique, so discovering Common, Kweli and Mos Def – now widely referred to as “conscious rappers” – made Thales begin to think about the art of writing and the message he was putting out. Then came the British influences with the rise of UK hip-hop, pioneered by artists such as Task Force, Skinnyman, Roots Manuva and The 57th Dynasty to name a few. They carved out a unique British sound rather than one which imitated that of the US. Thales started to properly develop his writing style the more he listened to these artists. From around 16 years old he began recording music. This was in an era when access to recording equipment wasn’t easy and suitable technology wasn’t cheap. Nowadays there is so much technology at our disposal, with access to free software, cheap


HOMEtruths Catford-based rapper Thales talks touring with Rag'n'Bone Man, engineering his own unique sound and why he wants to make music that is inspired by his experiences of life in south-east London WORDS BY ROSARIO BLUE n PHOTO BY PAUL STAFFORD

recording equipment and social media – tools that give artists full agency over their work. “I used to record with the headphone microphones that came with the computer – that was the only way you could do it,” he says of those early days. Once he was old enough, Thales started performing at open mic nights and attending hip-hop nights, where he started to get acquainted with the scene. This led to him being approached by two producers who offered to make beats for him. He put some music out and things were looking up, but nothing ever came to fruition. The reality of the industry then hit him. “I found out that everyone on the hip-hop scene was broke,” he says. “I didn’t really lose faith in it but nothing was happening, you know; that was it, things were just not moving. It was too much, it was oversaturated and there was no money to be made. I had no money and I was living with my mum

as well. And I was like, ‘You’ve got to get a proper job, basically, ’cause this thing is not going to pay the bills.’” Thales focused on working but he never stopped writing. Then a close friend asked him what he was doing with his music – “you’re sick, you’re a sick writer” – and encouraged him to try again. If it didn’t work out then it didn’t work out, but at least he would have given it one last shot. His friend advised him to start afresh with a new sound and even came up with the name Thales, after the ancient Greek philosopher. “He said, ‘The way you write, you are a philosopher, rather than somebody who always writes bars; you’re always quite conscious.’” Thales began to focus on his music seriously again, contacting different producers on SoundCloud, writing and making new music. He was lucky enough to meet and use the studio of Fumez, an acclaimed music engineer with notable credits including The Mix-Tape and sound engineering for

Follow Lewisham rapper and rising star Thales on Instagram @thalesthegreat

My music is a reflection of everything you hear in this borough; everything you see

Link Up TV. He has received valuable coaching from Fumez, which he says has really helped him to improve his sound. Thales played a few of his new tracks to a number of people and caught the attention of a few industry bigwigs, who put him on the radar of Rag’n’Bone Man. This led to him becoming one of the support acts on Rag’n’Bone Man’s 2018 Grande Reserve European tour. After finishing the tour – an experience he’s “still taking in” – Thales went straight back into the studio, recording music and working on the video for his new track Honestly, which was mostly recorded in the borough of Lewisham and was released this summer. Thales feels it is important for his work to represent his life honestly. He struggles to see the sense in flossing a lifestyle that he’s not living and doesn’t want to sell younger artists a fake dream. “My motivation for the music I’m trying to make is to be truthful to the young people,” he says. In addition to focusing on his music, Thales has a full-time job. He is up every day at 6am. After work, when most people put their feet up in front of the telly and relax, he’s writing, practising and balancing the rest of the responsibilities in his life. Thales has had times where he almost walked away and gave up on his music, because of the pressures of juggling his passion with work. “The determination to continue doing it is the hardest part,” he admits. “But it’s Kanye West who says it: ‘Giving up’s way harder than trying.’” What matters to Thales is that his music is a true reflection of his life, his experiences and his borough, Lewisham. “To sum it up,” he says, “if you listen to me, the music is that. It is everything you hear in this borough. It’s a reflection of everything you see. “You’re going to hear the good, you’re going to hear the bad; you’re going to hear a big mixing pot of everyone just entwined. And that’s it.”

16 A LE T T E R TO L E W I SH A M Iolanda Chirico (centre), reporter Ronnie Haydon (right) and staff from Columbia Threadneedle Investments


Lewisham-based charity AFRIL helps refugees to access vital services and forge friendships. One local volunteer explains more about the important work they do WORDS BY RONNIE HAYDON

ust over a year ago I interviewed local athlete Dame Dibaba for the Guardian running blog. Dame is a refugee from Ethiopia, and the story of his flight from persecution there – eventually escaping the Calais jungle to fetch up in Catford and becoming a local Parkrun stalwart – was compelling. Personal bests aside, Dame’s situation is bleak. With no papers, he cannot find paid work, claim benefits, or rent a room. He lives, he says, “like a ghost in this country”. Those words haunted me. Dame is entirely reliant on the kindness of friends he has made in the UK, but he also discovered, as I did, that there is one Lewisham-based charity that can offer practical, non-judgmental support and advice: Action for Refugees in Lewisham (AFRIL). Iolanda Chirico founded AFRIL in 2006. She ran it from her home before she received a grant to move into a dedicated office. Today AFRIL works with more than 1,000 refugees, asylum seekers, migrants and their families annually. It offers advice, education and information, food and household goods to those in desperate need.


With 12 members of part-time paid staff and a team of volunteers (including myself), AFRIL oversees a number of projects, including an education service called the Rainbow Club, advice and advocacy for refugees, the Helping Hands Saturday foodbank, an allotment, a community dinner programme and a fitness club. More than half of the people who use AFRIL are classified as NRPF (No Recourse to Public Funds). They aren’t allowed to apply for benefits of any kind: housing, unemployment, disability. Without papers, of course, they’re not allowed to work for a salary, either. So they have to rely on friends, or relatives. Or AFRIL. Iolanda and her team of advocates, advisers and fundraisers help clients hack their way through the thickets of paperwork that comes from the Home Office and the Department for Work and Pensions. They can make doctors’ appointments, find emergency accommodation or schools for children. Above all, they’re a source of hope. “One can’t help feeling helpless in the face of bureaucracy, gatekeeping and, in some cases, institutional racism, which is so difficult to

eradicate,” Iolanda says. “But one needs to remain positive and explore all avenues to offer solace and reassurance until things get better, because things will improve one day, no matter how long it takes.” Asked if she’s ever discouraged by the naysayers, who insist that refugees only have themselves to blame and should go back to where they came from, Iolanda says: “I hear that constantly. But I’m never discouraged because I know our beneficiaries are not scroungers, they’re fleeing from the worst abuse of human rights and it is our duty to welcome them and support them. We would want the same if we were in that situation.” Despite the difficulties she faces every day, Iolanda is spurred on by the little victories scored by AFRIL. She encourages refugees to join the volunteer team when they can. “Volunteering is the stepping stone to so much more: networks, knowledge, the furtherance of skills as well as relief of boredom, isolation and alienation,” she says. “It is our mission to empower our beneficiaries to volunteer as soon as they are ready.” The Rainbow Club supplementary school on Saturday mornings, AFRIL’s

AFRIL helps clients hack their way through thickets of paperwork

longest running project, is a hive of volunteer activity. Children aged from four to 11 from refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds learn maths, English, music, art and PE at St Saviour’s school in central Lewisham. The award-winning club’s head teacher, Thomas Martin, describes it as a “normal school condensed into a Saturday morning”. There is a waiting list; not all the families who come to AFRIL can have a place for their children, but they are able to join in with the adult classes in English for speakers of other languages. Other ways in which AFRIL’s users can improve their spoken English include attending the Helping Hands foodbank on Saturday mornings, or spending an afternoon up at the AFRIL allotment, where volunteers and refugees work side by side. Over the summer it has proved a happy place for refugee families and volunteer gardeners alike. It’s certainly been a hit with groups of City workers recruited by the redoubtable Iolanda to lend their muscle. Many investment banks in the City run volunteer programmes that allow their employees to use a normal working day to volunteer for a good cause. I met Colin, Sam and James from Columbia Threadneedle Investments when they came to level some ground for a proposed AFRIL summerhouse on the allotment. All three volunteers were happy to leave their desks for a day with the blessing of their employer and do some physical work. AFRIL’s youngest volunteer, Annabelle Roberts, is only 10 years old. She started volunteering with her father, Laurie, at the Helping Hands foodbank on Saturday mornings. A few months on, she has learned the ropes and there’s no stopping her philanthropic spirit. When I met her, she was busy preparing for harvest festival: she’d arranged to take part in an AFRIL presentation at her school assembly, to drive up donations for the foodbank. Annabelle is a foodbank expert: she knows where everything is, and exactly what goes into the emergency supplies bag every week. She’s also the resident Helping Hands store cupboard aficionado, organising the stock with admirable focus. These practical, empathetic skills have also worked wonders for her confidence. “She was always pretty shy, but working here really helped her overcome it, and now she’s head girl at school,” Laurie says. The benefits of volunteering for a cause you believe in are well documented, and the enormous sense of wellbeing applies as much to the refugees as to the citizens who want to help them. But even if volunteering for a few hours each week is impossible, Iolanda isn’t too proud to request you throw some money at the problem. “If each Lewisham resident were to give £1, we’d be the most wellresourced group in the borough, enabling us to do so much more for our beneficiaries.” And if you gave £1, then decided to explore to check out the volunteering opportunities, Lewisham would be positively floating on a cloud of wellbeing. Wouldn’t that make this a better borough for all of us?


or anyone unfamiliar with the cult blog Deserter, it could probably be best described as a shirker’s guide to kicking about in south-east London. It reviews pubs and restaurants as well as offering expert advice on how to get away with doing as little work as possible. The writing is iconoclastic, brilliantly funny, often profane and always exquisite, with a dedicated and growing fanbase. The duo behind it, Andrew Grumbridge and Vincent Raison – aka Dulwich Raider and Dirty South – have now written a book, Today South London, Tomorrow South London. It’s a chronicle of the pair’s misadventures south of the river and has been described as “part guide, part travelogue”. I meet the irreverent pair for a pint at Suttons’ Radio in Lewisham to find out more about the book and what they really think of the nine to five. “I’ve never enjoyed it,” Blackheath resident Vince assures me. “I find it insulting on a spiritual level,” concurs Andrew, who lives in Denmark Hill. It’s a Sunday evening when we meet and just a few days after the book launch. Andrew is sporting a Dulwich Hamlet scarf and Vince is wearing green cords supported by a pair of braces. They each exude a certain anarchistic charm, like the Sleaford Mods but with RP accents. I find them both in good spirits, which is not surprising since firstly,


A shirker’s paradise

The duo behind south-east London blog Deserter have encouraged their readers to "shirk, rest and play" since 2014. Now the pub-loving pair have a new book out that expands on the theme WORDS BY SEAMUS HASSON n PHOTOS BY LIMA CHARLIE

they’re where they love being the most – the pub – and secondly, the book launch has gone rather well. “The launch was amazing,” Andrew says. “It was at the Dulwich Beer Dispensary and it was absolutely packed.” “We did give the audience free beer early on though, which might have helped,” Vince suggests. “Nothing to do with it,” insists Andrew. The response to the book has been extremely positive, even attracting endorsements from the likes of comedian Jenny Eclair and restaurant critic Jay Rayner. The first run sold out in one week “due to a pre-order frenzy”, Andrew says – “their words [the publishers] not ours” – and there’s a genuine sense of excitement surrounding it. “It’s actually the second book we’ve written,” Vince says. “The first book we did was more about the philosophy aspect of shirking and why you should spend more time not working. “We got very close to a publishing deal with several high-profile

publishers, but it didn’t happen in the end and we decided to attack the hyperlocal stuff we do. We collected some of the stuff about our days out, which worked well.” “The publisher insisted on a pile of new stuff as well, which was very annoying because it meant we had to do some work,” Andrew adds. “Yes, and we had to try and link the stories so we had a full four seasons of

Opposite: Vincent Raison and Andrew Grumbridge, who run south-east London slackers' blog Deserter

deserting, although I wouldn’t call it a narrative exactly,” Vince elaborates. The two men have an obvious rapport and when it came to cowriting the book, an almost telepathic sense of each other’s working patterns. “We’ve been doing the blog for so long, we don’t sit down and write the same piece,” Andrew explains. “It’s always written separately. But basically one would write it and the other would edit it and make suggestions.” “Yes, and because we’re both fundamentally lazy,” Vince adds matter-of-factly, “what one person would normally do on their own there were two of us doing, so that worked perfectly.” “I don’t know about you, but my Mrs sometimes says she can’t tell who wrote which passage now,” Andrew says to Vince. “I think there’s definitely a Deserter voice.” That voice was first established in 2014 when they launched the blog. They had been working together on an ill-fated idea for a TV series about aliens but without any of


BOOK S 1 9

D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

the explosions and horror usually associated with the genre. “It was more about the backroom stuff, like the logistics and the warehouse,” Andrew explains. “I still don’t know why it hasn’t been picked up.” “Alien admin”, Vince adds. “Yeah, it’s a mystery.” A TV producer they were pitching to advised they needed more characters and it suddenly clicked: they decided to write about the people and places of their native south-east London. “We started writing about what we do in our play time; our little days out. I wouldn’t say our days out are necessarily themed, but there’s often a reason that sparks them off,” Vince says. “Yeah, they’ve probably become more themed as we realised you need to do different things to keep people interested and indeed to keep us interested,” Andrew adds. “I think the first post we did was about the World Cup in 2014 and where you could watch it with a partisan crowd,” Vince explains. “So, if you’re watching Argentina, why not go to an Argentinian pub?” (Incidentally there aren’t any, but the guys inform me that Elephant and Castle is the best place to go for South American bars in general). “When we started writing about south-east London, we realised that nobody else was really covering it as we were,” Vince says. “Or in the way that we wanted it covered,” Andrew agrees. “I always

wanted to read travel logs that tell you about the darker side of the locale as well. You know the best places to eat and drink, but I wanted to know the worst places to eat and drink too.” As well as the blog, Vince and Andrew also have their own podcast, which covers similar themes – pubs, days out and deserting. It’s a tonguein-cheek broadcast where the guys have occasional like-minded guests to discuss the finer aspects of deserting. They’ve also recently introduced a literary corner to the podcast, where they discuss humorous books they’ve both found funny down the years. “We’ve got an insider friend who does still work in a high-powered job, but he’s an utter slacker and he tells us about his experiences of sleeping on the job and getting away with it,” Andrew says. “We get the odd guest who has an angle on how to live for less, such as opting out of the property market and living on a houseboat, or someone who’s letting their flat and travelling the world,” Vince adds. “There’s a friend of ours who rents out his house and just travels around all the time. He considers himself homeless, which is a bit rich, but nonetheless he has to keep travelling because he really has no choice.” “Obviously not everyone can do it but it’s kind of nice to know that someone is,” Vince adds. The podcast is split into sections and each episode covers what the pair have been up to since the previous

broadcast. There are also sections on what Andrew describes as “the philosophies behind deserting and slacking off, you know – how to make ends meet. “It’s kind of a support group,” he says. “More people I talk to now know us for the podcast rather than the blog.” “Yeah, I think the podcast is the rising star of entertainment,” Vince agrees. The blog posts are still essential reading material for anyone with a propensity for shirking though. “I mean we like them, because we had to write what we wanted to read I suppose, ultimately,” says Vince. “We had to amuse each other as well.”

We've got an insider friend who works in a high-powered job but he's an utter slacker

“That was a guiding principle,” Andrew agrees. “Just to kind of blow the tumbleweed.” For now at least, the guys have resisted commercialising Deserter, believing that sponsorship – or at least certain types of sponsorship – could dilute the brand. “To run an ad for Windows 10 alongside an article saying ‘Don’t go to work’, it would just undo everything we stand for, our beliefs,” Andrew explains. “We’ve had to turn ads down because it just doesn’t feel right.” “When we started the podcast, a couple of them we got offered were for razors,” Vince adds, “and at the time we both had massive beards.” “They simply hadn’t done their research,” Andrew laughs. Whatever the duo’s aversion to the nine-to-five rat race, there’s no doubting their passion and drive for what they do. Their book is an achievement that could only be possible through determination and, whether or not they’d like to admit it, hard work. “Although it’s a hyperlocal book about a small part of the country, it would be nice if it was received more universally,” Vince says. “Yes,” Andrew agrees, “I think so, because the message is a universal one: you can have a good time with the right people wherever you live.” Today South London, Tomorrow South London is available at all good bookshops and from



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

he popularity of group singing has exploded in recent years. There are at least 40,000 choirs across the UK today, with more than two million members. It’s a dark and blustery October evening when I join one of these – the Quaggy Community Choir – for their weekly singing session at the Parkside SE10 Community Centre, just off Lewisham Road. I’m warmly greeted by choir manager Priya Bose and am immediately struck by the friendly atmosphere as singers start to arrive. Led by musical director Jake Alexander, this is a community choir in every sense of the word. Everybody is welcome, there’s no audition and it doesn’t matter if you’ve never sung before. “Singing is universal, accessible and you don’t need any equipment for it,” Jake says. “Anyone can do it, even if they think they can’t.” People come to the choir from the immediate area, including the Parkside Estate, and from further afield. “It’s cross-cultural and brings together the different communities in Lewisham. We exist for the community,” says Priya. The termly fee is £45, £30 for concessions or £5 per session on a pay-as-you-go basis – although Priya says if someone wants to join but can’t afford it, they never turn anyone away. They are extremely grateful that the Parkside Residents’ Association lets them use the room for free. After some fun warm-up activities, Jake divides the choir into three parts, high, middle and low, and teaches the South African song, Siyahamba. As all three sections sing together, a tingle goes through me as I feel the power of communal singing. The harmonies are beautiful; the feeling in the room joyful and energised. There are people of all ages in the choir, ranging from 10 months (that’s Jake’s daughter) to teenagers and people in their 20s and 30s, through to those in their 40s, 50s, 60s and beyond. “It’s a mix of young professionals, retired or semi-retired people, mums who need a break, carers and many more. It’s a really exciting mixture of people,” Priya says. So what is the appeal of singing in a group? “Singing is very immediate”, says Priya. “It brings people together who’ve never met before and don’t know anything about each other. Just through a song, a simple round or a voice exercise you’re making music – it’s magical. Working together to create something is deeply satisfying.” The feel-good factor gained from singing in a choir is backed up by Oxford University, where researchers have found that group singing not only helps forge social bonds, but does so very rapidly, acting as an excellent icebreaker. Singing is also a great way to meet new people, which in our social media-obsessed world, is hugely beneficial. Alison joined the Quaggy Community Choir when it first started in May 2017. She used to sing in church choirs years ago and has enjoyed getting back into singing. She works in a centre for people experiencing domestic abuse and says the choir is a real stress-buster. “I feel lifted at the end of the evening”, she says. “I feel part of something. People are seeking human contact more and more. It takes you away from technology and computers.



With a repertoire ranging from anti-Trump songs to Sixties pop, the Quaggy Community Choir offers something for everyone – and all abilities are welcome WORDS BY LOUISE KIMPTON-NYE

Singing is the opposite of looking at your phone, you have to concentrate. It’s a lovely mix of people. We’ve done lots of gigs and community events.” Jake and Priya are passionate about making everybody welcome and the atmosphere is informal and relaxed. “When people think of a choir they often think of a classical ensemble or they feel a certain type of person goes to a choir,” Priya says. “We do our best to challenge those assumptions. “We realise you can feel quite vulnerable singing in a group of strangers, so we have an informal buddying system where an established singer will sit with a new person. It’s a friendly, warm place.” Jake studied composition at Trinity Laban in Deptford and uses his professional training to arrange all the songs for the choir, adapting them to suit people’s abilities and needs. Songs they work on include pop tunes from the 1960s onwards, folk music and world music, such as African songs and American spirituals. “We try to do topical songs too,” he says. “We did suffragette marching songs, and songs relating to the World Cup and the Trump demonstrations.


We try to tie things into what’s going on in the wider world.” Why have community choirs become so popular? Of course, the Gareth Malone effect sparked a huge interest. It was one of Gareth’s shows that created the Lewisham and Greenwich NHS Choir, who gained a Christmas number one in 2015 with their single A Bridge over You. Talent shows such as The Voice and The X Factor probably also play a part in encouraging people to sing. Choirs provide a safe place to test your performing skills. Mary has been coming to the Quaggy Community Choir for three weeks. She was made redundant from her job in childcare and has taken the opportunity to work a bit less and explore new things. “The best thing about the choir is the chance to express yourself”, Mary says. “It’s something I’ve always wanted to do.” She enjoys karaoke at her local pub and would like more chances to perform. She says the choir is helping her gain in confidence. Priya thinks changes in the way people socialise have also led to a boom in choirs. “People are more health-conscious now and want to do

something sociable that isn’t based around a night out drinking,” she says. “Singing is a fun way to get together and a great way to make friends.” Choir member Tom says he enjoys the “lovely mix of community” within the group, while another member, Adrian, says it provides a welcome break from his full-time caring responsibilities: “It makes me happy and full of energy. I sing everywhere.” I listen as the singers practise The Frostbound Wood, a poem by Bruce Blunt set to music by Peter Warlock. As all the parts come together, the layers of vocal harmonies are truly delicious upon the ear. Then, as my evening with the Quaggy Community Choir draws to a close, I’m treated to a rousing rendition of Leonard Cohen’s life-affirming secular rock hymn, Hallelujah. It beats a night in front of the telly any day. Hear the Quaggy Community Choir perform at Sing Out for Christmas on December 8, 6.30-8.30pm at Lee Green United Reformed Church. Tickets £5 in aid of For Jimmy. Visit

Above: there are more than 15 choirs in the borough of Lewisham, including the Quaggy Community Choir

The best thing about the choir is that it gives you the chance to express yourself


or decades this singular museum has been a powerful incentive for young couples to choose the sunlit uplands of Forest Hill as their breeding ground. Even before lottery grants and other funding helped transform the interior of the art nouveau building to make it a real player on the family-friendly front, the Horniman Museum and Gardens was the place for parents, grandparents, carers and educators to while away the long hours of childcare in fascinated contemplation of the museum’s wide-ranging, often eccentric collections. The original antique display cabinets that house beady-eyed stuffed mammals and birds, pickled pigeons and pinned butterflies, some dating from its opening in 1901, are still very much in evidence, but they’ve been joined by new collections and wonders. The result is that the Horniman has joined the ranks of award-winning London attractions, without losing any of its antique “cabinet of curiosities” charm. The museum was founded by Frederick Horniman, a well-travelled tea trader, who first started collecting stuff in the mid-1860s and then set up a museum for visitors in his former home in Forest Hill. By 1898 the house was as overstuffed as the museum’s walrus, which has always been the star turn, so Horniman commissioned the purpose-built museum we have today. Before the big refurbishment in the early noughties, the collection was displayed mostly in shadowy halls and lofty balconies. The aquarium (then the oldest free aquarium in the world) was a fascinating stepped series of fish tanks and rocky pools, each displaying a different miniature underwater world, and there was a tea room where parents could have a cuppa and kids could be bribed with a Mini Milk. Today, the swishy modern entrance hall is flanked by a large restaurant and cafe and a big gift shop. The nostalgic can head straight for the natural history gallery to check in on the venerable walrus, still lording it over the place from his iceberg. Above him on the balcony, the Apostle Clock chimes on the hour, and at 4pm breaks into enchanting clockwork life as 12 carved apostles pass in front of Jesus. In the hands-on base, children often stand transfixed before the observation beehive or the big glass case of scurrying mice. Downstairs, the music room and aquarium gobble up yet more hours: the captivating blue-lit jellyfish tank is mesmeric. With 16 acres of gardens featuring nature trails, formal flower beds, grassy expanses and a sensory garden, the Horniman is the best picnicking spot in Lewisham. There’s an animal enclosure and, if you have a few quid to spare, the butterfly house is a steamy, tropical joy on a cold, grey day. More money changes hands at the Horniman these days – visitors have to pay at reception for tickets to the aquarium and butterfly house or to special exhibitions – but these are all free to members. Many parents of young children agree that paying for family membership to the Horniman was the most sensible thing they’ve ever done, after moving to Forest Hill in the first place, of course.


The Horniman is home to 350,000 weird and wonderful artefacts and specialises in anthropology, natural history and musical instruments

Children stand transfixed before the observation beehive or the big glass case of scurrying mice



D ECE M B E R /J A N UA RY 201 9

The museum has more than 8,000 objects created to produce sound, from a pair of bone-clappers made in Egypt around 3,500 years ago to electric guitars, keyboards and drum kits


A cOrnucopia of



aren Arthur is a passionate believer in the power of fashion and craft to aid positive mental health – and the former teacher turned womenswear designer has been spreading her “wear your happy” message far and wide. “Over 50 rocks!”, declares Karen, when we meet at her local cafe, Brown & Green in Mayow Park, and she’s certainly a fabulous advert for making the most of life once you are in the second half-century. This year she has spent a month volunteering in Zimbabwe, where she helped women in communities affected by HIV to set up sustainable fashion businesses. She has also worked on a project to tackle loneliness, which involved getting people to join in crafting sessions on London’s buses and Tubes. She has spoken at numerous events, on top of running her own fashion and sewing business, Reddskin. And to round it off, in addition to appearing on the front page of The Lewisham Ledger, she was also cover star of over40s magazine Goldie. “It has been quite a year for me and the magazine cover is the icing on the cake”, Karen reflects. “To have a 56-year-old black woman with undyed locs on the front of a glossy magazine is quite a big deal. “My daughters, who are 23 and 28, were thrilled and when I told my mum she said, ‘It’s better than Vogue’. It really started to hit home when friends of mine who work in town sent me pictures of the magazine in Charlotte Street News and Selfridges.” So how did it come about? “Goldie use real people rather than models for their fashion spreads. Rebecca, the editor, lives in Forest Hill and mentioned that they were doing a shoot at Piazza Della Cucina on Perry Vale. She asked if I’d like to take part and I thought, ‘Why not?’ “When they told me later that they wanted to use a picture of me on the cover I didn’t realise quite what an impact it would have. So many people have commented on it and it is now sold out online.” Karen grew up in Oxfordshire but moved to London in her mid-20s, settling in Forest Hill 28 years ago. She has always had a creative streak, influenced by her Barbadian mother, Joyce, who made a lot of Karen’s clothes when she was a child. For many years she worked in education and in her spare time she made bags, which she sold on Etsy and at craft fairs under the name Reddskin. “Sewing, designing and creating with colour always made my heart sing but I never really took it seriously”, she says. “Teaching and formal education is a big thing in colonial families and it didn’t occur to me that I could be creative full time.” Two major things happened to change her life. “I left my partner and I left my job and it’s actually been the making of me,” she says. “For 20 years I was in an abusive relationship. When that ended I put all my effort into bringing up my daughters, but then in 2014 they were both away at university, I was in the house alone and I absolutely hated it. I was so lonely and I was in a job I was realising I didn’t enjoy anymore. “It all came to a head one night when I came in from work and started


Sewing, designing and creating with colour has always made my heart sing


Karen Arthur uses her passion for fashion, craft and colour to combat loneliness and mental health issues. The Forest Hill resident explains why she wants to help spread some happiness WORDS BY NIKKI SPENCER


crying and crying and couldn’t stop. A friend managed to persuade me to take time off work and I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression. Once I found the right therapist for me I eventually began to improve.” She decided to leave teaching and with the help of a business coach she relaunched Reddskin. “I realised I didn’t want to sell bags to strangers

online, I wanted to create bespoke garments for women to make them feel good,” she says. “I have just finished making two dresses for a lady going to her sister’s wedding in South Africa and I’m making a jumpsuit for a lady who is tall and can never find one to fit her.” She also started teaching sewing. “People often have a sewing machine

Above: Karen Arthur at Kemble House photography studio on Stanstead Road

they haven’t used for ages and I help rekindle their love of sewing,” she explains. She is now a guest tutor at the Knitting & Stitching shows at Olympia and Alexandra Palace. Three years ago Karen created a group called Tuesday Thrills Craft Social, which meets at her home in Forest Hill once a month. “I started it to combat my own loneliness and then I realised it helped others too,” she says. “There are people with anxiety and PTSD [Post Traumatic Stress Disorder] and everyone brings food and drink and anything they want to make. One woman has just finished embroidering something she started 20 years ago. I love the sense of community here and how creative it is.” Using the hashtag #wearyourhappy, Karen started posting her outfits and thoughts on social media. “I no longer have depression but there are still days that are tough. I find that putting on certain items can make me feel it’s OK and helps me get out of the house”, she explains. She has built up quite a following and has written an ebook, 8 Ways to Wear Your Happy, to help others “stand up, stand out and feel wonderful”. She recently ran a Wear Your Happy live event in Nunhead and she is planning more in 2019. Earlier this year, when a friend of a friend mentioned she was looking for someone to teach sewing on a charity project in Zimbabwe, Karen was nervous about volunteering and the challenge of crowdfunding the trip, but her daughters encouraged her. “They are my full-on cheerleaders”, she says. “I posted a video explaining what I wanted to do and it trended. People were so generous, although the trip wasn’t all plain sailing. “It was an amazing experience but I was way out of my comfort zone. It certainly made me appreciate all that I do have. It also taught me that I should say yes to things more often.” Karen has also worked on a project called The Loneliness Lab, which saw her and two fellow creatives getting people to crochet, colour in and make things during their commutes. “It’s a common misconception that only pensioners are lonely – people from all walks of life can be. We are now so connected through our phones but so physically disconnected. People loved what we were doing. We had builders making Play-Doh hearts and one guy ended up staying on after his stop as he was having so much fun.” Theirs was one of a number of pilot projects and they are planning to take it further. “I love the idea of a bus route where everyone is doing crafts, or craft carriages where you could get on knowing there is stuff to create,” says Karen. “I’d love to be the tsarina of crafts for TfL.”

26 FORE S T H I L L S PECI A L t’s easy to forget that away from the all-pervading glitz and glamour of the Premiership, there is another world of football altogether. A world where salaries barely exist – let alone reach six figures a week – and where the “beautiful game” is still a vehicle for social improvement and community cohesion rather than the idle plaything of Russian billionaires or Arab sheikhs. Forest Hill Park FC is one such club. A community football club through and through, FHPFC was founded in 1992 by three youngsters, Dean Dennis, Peter Stephens and Clayton Walters. Residents of Forest Hill and Honor Oak, they were united by a love of football. The club’s badge still honours its original founders, with three arrows representing each of the trio, while the overall insignia is a nod to the famous oak tree on One Tree Hill that gave Honor Oak its name. Remarkably, 26 years on from its formation, Clayton is still involved with FHPFC, serving as chairman, secretary and owner. Indeed, it is Clayton’s passion and drive that underpins everything the club has achieved as it has steadily risen to the Southern Counties East League Division One – the 10th tier of the English football league system. “I’ve been involved from day one as we have worked our way up the leagues,” Clayton says. “We are now a part of the English national league system, so everything we do has to comply with FA regulations. My role as chairman and secretary is to deal with the FA, the league and all the other various bodies we have to work with.” Clayton’s motivation is simple. “I’m Forest Hill born,” he says. “This is my borough and I’m very proud to have helped establish a club of this standing, a club that is registered and established within the national league system. “Having a football club the borough of Lewisham can be proud of is the most important thing. I’m motivated by a love of the game and the broader idea of helping the community.” Somewhat surprisingly, considering the population of Lewisham reaches nearly 300,000, there are only three professional or semi-professional football clubs in the borough: Millwall – who currently reside in the Championship – and Forest Hill Park and Lewisham Borough FC, who are in the same division and also share Ladywell Arena, the multiple-use sports arena on Silvermere Road. “Local football clubs are vital,” Clayton says. “They are a hub. Premiership clubs charge astronomical entrance prices, but we are a different ball game altogether. “We offer football how it used to be, where you can see a good level of play at affordable prices [FHPFC charge £6 for adult admission, £3 for concessions and just £1 for under16s]. “The club uses the reach of football to get people off the streets. We have mentors such as myself who work with youngsters. We offer player pathways for teenagers. “Some of these kids may be going down the wrong path and the channel of football helps to give them something. Football bridges gaps. It’s key for the community.” Forest Hill Park’s new manager, Lee Roots, concurs wholeheartedly with Clayton’s vision of the club as central to the Lewisham community.



BALL Making an impact both on and off the pitch is key to Forest Hill Park FC. We headed to Ladywell Arena to meet the community-minded club WORDS BY LUKE G WILLIAMS

Forest Hill Park FC currently play in the 10th tier of the English football league system

“Something like a thriving semiprofessional football club that is successful all the way from the first team down to youth level can make a big difference to the community,” he points out. “We want to win games of football, but what really matters at Forest Hill Park FC is the work that’s done outside the first team too, and the big reach and effect that we can have on what is in many ways a deprived area of London. “We are trying to bring some kind of focal point to the community. I think the club has the right people behind it. We have the potential to push on. We’re forever trying to grow the reputation of the club. “We’re big on encouraging young players. We give lots of young players opportunities and we’re also trying



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9 to engage the community as much as possible.” Beckenham-born Lee joined the club in the summer and – with his vision and dynamism – seems an inspired choice to drive the club forward. He possesses coaching qualifications from the FA in both football and psychology and has amassed a wide array of experiences within the game as both a player and manager. “My background has been football or football-orientated for the bulk of my life,” he explains. “I’m a bit mad like that. I think you’ve got to be. My dad was a professional footballer. Back in the 60s he left school at 15 and played for Leeds United, QPR and Tottenham. Later he also managed. My brothers played football, my cousins played, my uncles played. “I used to play at a good level and was always captain and enjoyed leadership. It was always a natural progression for me from playing to managing. I think there’s a thing in my family where we like managing people,” he laughs. “My uncle Chris is vice chairman of Welling [United FC]. My older cousin Martin is the manager of a vets team. My older brother is the manager of an under-14s team. “I played for clubs like Charlton Athletic Community and Chatham Town, but I have a condition called degenerative disc disease – I have slipped discs in my back and neck so I retired from playing at 27 and moved into management.” Lee performed miracles at Chipstead, taking a club who were bottom of their league and on the verge of folding to a third-place

We offer football how it used to be. You can see a good level of play at affordable prices

finish. He also impressed in spells at clubs including Charlton Athletic Community and Holmesdale. “After I left Holmesdale at the end of last year I got in touch with Clayton,” Lee says. “We sat down on numerous occasions, it didn’t happen overnight. I had to put together the right team for him and he wanted me to be fully aware of the club’s community work.” On the pitch, FHPFC have been in something of a transition period so far this season, with early results that could be described as encouraging rather than spectacular. “We sit 10th at the moment,” Lee says. “I brought over quite a lot of lads from the club I left – they were quite loyal to me. So we have a totally new squad – we retained just one player from last year who unfortunately with our best wishes subsequently moved on. “It’s taken time and we probably should have won more matches than we have. We’ve played 12 in the league, and we’ve won five, lost five, drawn two. We shouldn’t have lost five games. But we’ve just picked up a couple of good results, so we’re starting to become a better side. “You have to have as high ambitions as you can. My vision for the club is to have it performing on the field, winning games and trying to win trophies.” In order to facilitate this success, though, more help is needed, as is financial support and sponsorship. “I’ll be honest with you, it’s tough,” says Clayton, speaking of the club’s finances and the current funding crisis that is particularly affecting lower league football in the UK.

“Some years ago we used to get a level of support and grants as a community football club and we got funding from the local authority. We’ve also had various funding over the years from private enterprises. “However, austerity has kicked in and right now it’s a struggle. We’re really trying to promote ourselves and attract sponsorship but grassroots football is struggling. The costs of facilities have got higher for matches and for training and we’re not getting anything from the FA. It’s very, very tough. “I’ve been around for a long time, but I won’t be around forever. We’re looking to move onwards and upwards. We want to make sure the club is sustainable and has the right people involved to take the mantle forward and carry on.” Lee chimes in with a call for as many locals as possible to embrace FHPFC and get involved. “If there are people out there who have ambitions to be part of a football club that has a role within the community, then they can really achieve something at Forest Hill Park FC,” he says. “Anyone who’s interested in volunteering for the club would be very welcome. We have a handful of fantastic volunteers who do lots of jobs for us to make sure the club keeps ticking along, but more volunteers would be good. “And if there is anyone in the community who is suffering hard times, we want them to know they can come into the club when we’ve got games at home. “The club is here and we want people to benefit from it and we want to help as many people as we can.”


Havelock Walk is home to a host of painters, photographers, sculptors, designers, fine artists, furniture-makers and more. We spoke to five people who set up studio in the cobbled mews


Simon McKeown 11 Havelock Walk I’ve always been interested in making 3D things, working with different materials: wood, metal, plastics, ceramics. I like to use materials playfully, while giving them a function, too. I went to college in Glasgow and then to art school in Liverpool. I studied sculpture and drawing and worked as an artist-in-residence, making public sculptures. When I left art school, I got a job working at a girls’ secondary school in Liverpool. I had a studio there. It was fantastic, it was my first job, and I was there for three years. I would do technical assistance and run workshops for the children. That helped to subsidise my practice. I found that I loved working with children and young people. I worked in education for 10 years. But then, in 2011, my first wife and I were in a terrible car crash, and she died. I was devastated at that point; I couldn’t find the same enthusiasm and dedication for working with young people. I felt I had to make a fresh start, and the only thing I knew was how to make things. I had to get back to that. So, I moved down to London to renew my career as a maker. I went back to school for a time to study classical drawing and sculpture at a place called LARA, the London Atelier of Representational Art. Then I met Nadia, who is now my wife, and we had a whirlwind romance – we still are – and we’ve just had our third child. When we had our first child, I didn’t have a job of any kind. I was becoming rapidly very skint and now we had a little girl to support. I’d always fancied being a joiner, a carpenter, and I decided that’s what I would try to make a go of. The

workshop in Havelock Walk came up a few months later – it couldn’t have been better timing. I take on all sorts of bespoke commissions, like seating areas, wardrobes – any kind of fitted furniture. I’m working on a kitchen at the moment. I do the whole process: design, manufacture and installation. I also design and make my own furniture. I’m currently developing a new range of hardwood stools, tables and chairs. It’s a great community round here. I don’t sell through shops so Open Studios is a good opportunity to showcase my work. I have a lot of conversations with people, and I’ve had quite a lot of work off the back of it.

I'm rebellious by nature, and art is rebellion: it refuses to be unseen or unheard. I was drawn to that

Simon McKeown

Elizabeth Chisholm 10 Havelock Walk I’m rebellious by nature, and art is rebellion: it refuses to be unseen or unheard. I was drawn to that. I grew up in Ontario, Canada. I took the equivalent of a foundation year at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. I chose to go there because it had visiting artists, it took that seriously, and I was interested in having multiple voices influencing me. I studied at the San Francisco Art Institute for three years. Then, after travelling around for a while, doing various jobs, I moved to England. I did a postgraduate programme in continental philosophy in London. I’m a painter but I never thought I was born into it. I ended up in this field, the bulk of whose history has been defined by men. But it has supplied a quiet space for me to rebel. In the 1980s I learned about Laura Mulvey, the British feminist and philosopher, and her concept of “the male gaze”. It was a paradigm shift for me, a mind-blowing idea, and I



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

Beep Studio founders Ed Holloway and Peter Ayres

realised that I, too, had learned to look at cinema as if I were a man. I’ve spent a long time fighting that. But we live in our culture and it influences us in so many ways. Ultimately, I’d like to think my work is created in this time and in this place; I am influenced but I have my eyes wide open. I work in acrylic. I’m allergic to white spirit, so the first thing I did was try to remove the possibility of using paintbrushes. I’ve poured, I’ve scraped, I’ve cut, I’ve used everything. In the last year, I’ve brought the paintbrush back in because I realise I’m limiting myself. I’ve introduced the airbrush and I’m looking very seriously at having a digital aspect to my work. I describe my work as “contributing a female voice to the surveillance gaze”. I’m tipping my hat to Laura Mulvey. I’ve drawn from CCTV images in my work, but I was aware that I was operating in a male domain – 95% of CCTV imagery is of men; the language of surveillance is male language. So, to

have images of women and children in my work is an important principle for me. I’ve been in Havelock Walk since 2000. These Open Studios bring us all together. Although we work side by side, we don’t tend to encounter each other at other times because our work keeps us indoors.

Above: Tessa Holmes Top: Elizabeth Chisholm

Beep Studio Tessa Holmes 11 Havelock Walk 23 Havelock Walk Ed Holloway: We met in Manchester, I love printmaking. I love the process, where we both studied architecture. I love the time it takes to do things. Then we came to London and ended You really have to slow down; it’s up working for the same architectural quite zen sometimes. And I just love practice, WilkinsonEyre. Peter left the physicality of it all. and worked for Thomas Heatherwick My first job was as a clerical for eight years. I became an associate assistant for the FA – I had dreams of director at another practice, working becoming a football journalist, but it on the design of a DLR station and didn’t quite work out. Over the next various international projects. 10 years, I worked for an advertising We met again some years later and agency, trained as a nursery nurse, decided to work together. I set up the worked for a family centre in Camden, practice in 2011 and Pete was about to ran a mobile creche and trained as a join, but he got this amazing job. social worker. Peter Ayres: It was the most Then one day, when I had just interesting job I’ll ever work on: an turned 30, a friend said to me, “Why aviary in Mumbai to house a captive don’t you go to art school?” I enrolled on a screen-printing evening course in population of vultures who were used to dispose of the bodies of dead Camden and it snowballed from there. Zoroastrians. I couldn’t say no to that. I started doing photography and Ed: And I couldn’t say no to graphic design. When I was 35, that either. We really like I did a BA followed by an working in the public MFA at the Slade School Havelock Walk's realm; that’s where of Fine Art – I cycled Open Studios winter our passion lies. We across London and weekend is on December 1-2 like working for the got my application in community, trying with three minutes from 12-6pm. There will be art to motivate, enable, to spare. and crafts to view and buy, a equip, catalyse – all After graduation, chance to meet the artists and those words – to I taught at the makers and plenty of Christmas help people take London College fun under the fairy lights, with more control over of Printing and festive food, stalls, live their environments. A Camberwell College music and more big part of our work is of Art. But there was about education. a constant pull between Peter: We want our teaching and doing my projects to be enriching, in the own work. I was working in my broadest sense. Ours is a very diverse garage at home, a tiny little space, and practice, with a wide range of work. I used to creep in there at weekends Ed: One of our first projects was the to work. I heard about a studio in pocket park in Sydenham, next to the Havelock Walk and I started working library. Currently we’re working on here in my spare time. some art studios in the new Deptford Then, out of the blue, I fell seriously Foundry development. And we’re ill. I had to give up the teaching, and about to launch two new products. since recovering I am now working Peter: I won a competition to full-time as a printmaker. develop a product for Heal’s in 2004: I have a caravan, which is down in a thistle-like folded paper, origami Rye Harbour. It inspires a lot of my lampshade. It was their number-one work. I also love working in grids and seller for a while. We plan to bring that with series of things. I made my own back into production some time. But interpretation of the periodic table, with different coloured printed badges right now, we’re focused on a couple of woven paper shades. representing the elements. I’ve made Ed: We’re not lighting designers small wire sculptures, short animation per se. But whenever we do a job for films and a series of limited-edition a client, we try to develop a product prints called “Animalgamation”. that we can take further. We did a How would I sum up my work? big fit-out for the National Opera Diverse, experimental. I love Studio’s HQ in Wandsworth and we experimenting and playing around designed a large woven-paper ringwith stuff. Often with printmaking, a shaped lightshade. From that, we’ve mistake will happen, but that mistake developed two smaller shades. opens another door. You follow all Peter: We’ll give them a soft launch these weird paths. Sometimes they at Open Studios. We hope it will lead take you nowhere and sometimes they on to conversations about what we do. take you into another place.

30 FORE S T H I L L S PECI A L Assistant manager Stephen Bruce with volunteers Isabella Roche and Jenny Bright

ight years ago, all 12 of Lewisham’s public libraries were run by the council. These days, only three remain in the control of the authority, with the rest run largely by volunteers. It’s a remarkable and sometimes bitter story of spending cuts, job losses, public protests and community spirit. In 2010, the Tory-Lib Dem coalition government instituted a policy of austerity. A programme of massive spending cuts was set in motion, with local authorities hit hard. Lewisham, the 32nd most deprived borough of England’s 326 local authorities, has lost 60 per cent of its government funding since then. In 2011, the council proposed cuts of more than £1 million to its library service. Five libraries were marked for closure. In response, librarians, their union, Unison, and many local people mounted a series of public protests. After several months, the council handed the threatened libraries to a number of voluntary organisations. The libraries stayed open, but many librarians lost their jobs. In the following years another four libraries passed out of the council’s hands and into community control. Not a single library in the borough has closed, whereas almost 500 have shut nationwide. In these harsh times, Lewisham has, at least as far as library provision is concerned, fared better than most boroughs. Or, depending on how you look at it, not as badly. The crisis, though, is not over yet. The council has to cut another £30 million from its budget in the next three years and it is currently consulting on a proposal to cut spending on its three remaining libraries by almost half a million pounds. So how do community libraries work? Look no further than Forest Hill Library, which became a community library in 2016. It is housed in a gradeII listed, late Victorian building on




Thanks to the unwavering dedication of its staff and volunteers, Forest Hill Library is a thriving community hub – and lending books is just one of the invaluable services it offers Dartmouth Road. When they heard the library was marked for closure, the Forest Hill Traders’ Association and the Forest Hill Society got together to see if they could save it. They quickly realised they would need some financial backing. Enter stage left, V22, an art organisation that owns Louise House, next door to the library, which it has renovated and converted into artists’ studios. They proved to be the ideal partner. Lewisham Council accepted the bid from the new partnership, and then the hard work began. A crowdfunding campaign raised £10,000 in eight weeks. A derelict shop on Dartmouth Road was turned into a secondhand book and vinyl store, Leaf and Groove, with profits helping to fund the library. There were donations of no-longerneeded computers from Alleyn’s School. Local people gave their time and skills for free to help things along.

Meanwhile, the upper floor of the library was converted into studios, all of which are now occupied, the rental income contributing to the upkeep of the building. And the Friends of Forest Hill Library was set up to raise funds and encourage local involvement. The moving spirit behind much of this activity is general manager Simon Higgs, who also looks after Manor House Library in Lee, another V22 project. He is one of only three paid staff at Forest Hill – the other two are assistant manager Stephen Bruce and the cleaner, who has worked there for 25 years. Simon is extremely proud of the library. “We are open more staffed hours than any library in Lewisham, including the main library,” he says. “We only close on bank holidays and over Christmas.” While monthly visitor numbers average around 11,000, “most people

Volunteering at the library is so rewarding – you get to help people from all walks of life

aren’t coming here to borrow books,” says Simon. “Book borrowing is going down, and that’s a national trend. But more and more people are coming to libraries for other services. “Many organisations offering free legal advice have closed down and there’s only one Jobcentre in the whole of Lewisham. People don’t know where to go, so they’re going and asking questions at police stations, they’re going to post offices, they’re going to doctors’ surgeries, and all those people send them to the libraries. We’ve ended up becoming a kind of frontline service.” The library’s volunteers spend a lot of time helping people find information and advice. “We get people coming in who have been told they’ve got to claim benefits online and they’ve never been on a computer in their lives,” says Simon. “They don’t know where to start, they haven’t got an email address. We set them up an email address and show them how it works.” Retired teacher Jenny Bright has volunteered at the library since April. She works two four-hour afternoon shifts a week and hosts the Thursday afternoon “baby bounce”. A boisterous session for children around the age of two, it aims to interest them in books through music and play. “Volunteering at the library is very rewarding,” says Jenny. “You are supporting, guiding and helping many people from all walks of life. Plus, you meet and work with interesting people and if you are retired that is helpful.” The enquiries she deals with are “mainly to do with the computer and IT help, photocopying, printing documents, signing up new members with a library card and reserving books for people from other libraries.” Isabella Roche finished an MA in September and is volunteering while she looks for a job. “I’m pleasantly surprised that so many people still use libraries, and I think people are really grateful it exists because it serves so many functions – reading, computers, classes, child-friendly groups and so on,” she says. As well as bouncing babies, the children’s room has hosted activities such as philosophy sessions for kids and the annual reading challenge, signing children up to read six books during the holidays. There’s also a large community room that can be hired out for events. A weekly origami class and Lively Minds, a monthly discussion group for people aged 50 and over, are among the regular activities taking place there at present. The library also offers free wifi and, for a small charge, printing and photocopying services. It has taken a huge amount of effort and commitment to keep Forest Hill Library open and so well-used. Simon pays tribute to the “fantastic local community” and the volunteers. Given the invidious choices forced upon councils by government funding cuts over the past eight years, keeping all of Lewisham’s libraries open is an impressive feat. Libraries are a vital public service. But we can’t go on relying on volunteers forever. To hire the community room at Forest Hill Library, please email To volunteer, call 020 8244 0634 or email



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

in bars, gin pop-ups, ginthemed parties and gin festivals; evidence of the explosion in popularity of this juniper-based spirit is everywhere. Once seen as the tipple of choice among middle-aged golf fanatics, gin has been given the artisan treatment and is now thoroughly on trend. On the back of this surge in popularity, Charlotte Rose and her partner Simon Higgs set up the Forest Hill Gin Club for local enthusiasts. Launched just over two years ago, it now has 50-plus members and more than 300 gin devotees signed up to the mailing list. “Simon co-owns The Archie Parker and we were looking for something to do there in the evenings,” Charlotte says. “As we both like gin we decided to set up the club and it went from there really. We put on a cocktail night, quite a few people turned up and we invited them to sign up to a mailing list.” Original members can renew their subscription for £5 annually, while new registrations cost £10. For that, members get a range of gin-related discounts at local establishments including Brickfields in Brockley, Clapton Craft in Forest Hill and Bottle Bar and Shop in Catford. An absolute bargain for anyone partial to a cheeky G&T, the club is also an opportunity for gin lovers to learn about new flavours and varieties and to try out some of the more experimental cocktails. “We try to move the events around Forest Hill as much as possible. For example, Fatty’s Organic, the Dulwich-based distillery, did a tasting with us in the All Inn One,” Charlotte says. “We’ve also done tastings at Two Spoons cafe-bar and held events at The Hill before it closed. I try to find a distiller to come in and talk to us about their gin and what makes theirs different. “Then they’ll do a tasting session, which will be a perfect serve for their gin. What I mean by that is, what they would prepare it with, what garnish they would serve it with and what tonic they would use to bring out the key notes of the gin. Sometimes they will make a cocktail, but it will always start with a neat tasting session.” During the two-and-a-half years that the club has been in existence, they have welcomed a number of renowned British distilleries, including Greenwich-based Mean Gin and Pothecary from Dorset. They have also hosted brands from further afield including Nginious, who came all the way from Switzerland, and American distillers Death’s Door. Last Christmas the club held an event at the All Inn One with That Boutique-y Gin Company. “What they do [Boutique-y] is they go to different distillers and they make quite frankly bonkers concoctions under the Boutique-y umbrella,” Charlotte explains. “It allows the distillers to really play around with weird stuff without it necessarily affecting their own brand. They had some really, really nice stuff and some downright bonkers stuff,” she laughs. Charlotte says that a lot of the boom in the industry is down to the choice that is now available to consumers. “I’ve got friends who’ve said, ‘I don’t



With soaring sales and new distilleries popping up all over the country, it seems that gin is firmly back on the menu. We met up with Charlotte Rose, co-founder of the Forest Hill Gin Club, to find out more about its remarkable renaissance WORDS BY SEAMUS HASSON


like gin’ and I’ve told them that’s because they’ve only tried Gordon’s and Schweppes – or what Schweppes once was before they updated their range. “There’s just so much variety and so many wonderful brands out there. There’s a huge amount of enthusiasm, there’s a huge amount of talent and because of that, there are a lot of people jumping on the bandwagon and producing some very good gin. “I suppose a lot of it is for the gift market: ‘I’ve got a friend who likes gin so I’m going to buy them this unicorn sparkly gin’ type thing,” she explains. For anyone wondering, glittery pink unicorn gin really is a thing – a variety made by artisan distiller Zymurgorium is now on the menu at Wetherspoons. Much like the craft beer revolution, south London has been blazing a trail when it comes to gin’s modern revival. As well as Fatty’s Organic in Dulwich, other local distillers include Little Bird Gin in Peckham and Graveney Gin in Tooting. There’s also Dog House Distillery in Battersea and a Jameson’s distillery in Bermondsey. Charlotte believes that gin lovers in south-east London are spoilt for choice. “Locally we’ve got so many nice bars opening up,” she says. “Gin & Beer in Deptford for example has an excellent range. Two Spoons has got a really good range and Luca, the guy who runs it, really knows his stuff.” As well as running events for the Forest Hill Gin Club, Charlotte and Simon are also behind the hugely successful Catford Gin Festival, which is run in association with Team Catford. The second festival took place in October and has become a mecca for London gin lovers, attracting distillers from far and wide. “We had it in the Broadway Theatre this year so it was double the size of last year’s festival [which was held in a disused shop in Catford Shopping Centre]. A lot of distillers came from a fair way. We had Boatyard who came from Ireland and we had Colonsay Gin who are based in the Hebrides.”

Charlotte Rose, who co-founded the Forest Hill Gin Club with Simon Higgs There was also a wide range of London distilleries on display, such as Twelve Keys, Sacred and Tom Cat Six. Described as an “Old Tom” style gin – a variety that was popular in the 18th century – it was devised in SE6 specially for the Catford Gin Festival. One of the key aspects behind gin’s ongoing resurgence is its versatility and when it comes to cocktails, Charlotte has more traditional tastes. “My personal favourite is a martini,” she says, “but people are really into negronis at the minute. “Obviously with winter coming up, everyone’s into their mulled gin. Any decent gin and apple juice works really well as a hot gin – there are loads of recipes online.” So, with all this time spent talking about gin and organising events to do with gin, do Charlotte and Simon keep a lot of it at home? “It’s insane. There must be about 60 bottles of gin back at the house, all in various states of emptiness,” she laughs. “Actually, you’ve just reminded me – I need to pick up some tonics before I go home.” Forest Hill Gin Club's next tasting session is on December 6. Email

There's a huge amount of talent – people are producing some very good gin

34 AR CH I T EC T U RE idden down a road off Honor Oak that you could very easily miss, sits the small housing development of Walters Way, a cluster of dwellings in a cul-desac that has a place in the architectural history books and semi-iconic status among those with an interest in selfbuild architecture. It is a collection of 13 simple, modular, timber-framed houses, raised from the ground so that they seem to sit among the trees. The houses were designed by pioneering 20th century architect Walter Segal. He brought housebuilding back to some simple design principles and famously asserted that anyone who could cut a straight line or drill a straight hole could build their own house. Turning into Walters Way is like entering a place apart, but this is no gated community. Dave Dayes is one of the original residents of Walters Way and he built the family home in which he still lives. He and his late wife Barbara were living in a small flat in Deptford when they were invited to join the scheme in 1983. They seized the opportunity to build and own their own home with a fixed subsidy from Lewisham Council and a kit for following the Segal method. The sheer hard graft involved would not have appealed to everyone (one of the original residents is reputed to have called the build the worst time of his life), but Dave and Barbara held fast to the endgame, wielding a machete to clear the site, reading one page at a time of the manual provided – and after more than two long years of hard slog, finally finishing their new home. “Being here, the early days, it was beautiful, a godsend,” Dave says. “We had two young children and a third on the way. It was hard but we knew the prize at the end: a three-bedroom house. We’d pinch ourselves and say, ‘Did we really do this? Are they going to take everything away from us?’ We felt like pioneers.” Over the decades that followed, their family expanded until there were four growing boys – a family of six in total – and the house grew with them.  Barbara taught at the local primary school but was also a well-known yoga teacher and Dave followed her lead, training as an Iyengar yoga teacher himself. He tells me that Barbara saying there was only room for one yoga teacher in the family threw down a gauntlet he found hard to resist. It was a far cry from his former life as a market trader. Further down the street, Paul Capel lives with his partner Alice Grahame, their daughter Emily and a new kitten, Marmalade. They’ve been living on Walters Way for 10 years. While they did not build their house, they have given it a full ecorefurbishment, including a “solarengine” that heats the space. On the day of my visit, Alice is in Stuttgart with Walter Segal’s son, at an exhibition that features Walters Way. The history of the place is a living story that keeps getting told to all those willing to listen. In addition, something about the topography of Walters Way makes for a very close-knit community. Coupled with the fact that all the residents share responsibility for the road surface and outside lighting, it means there’s always an opportunity for togetherness. Paul tells me they have community almost by default. The majority of residents are families. There really is no divide


DOWN OUR WAY In the 1980s, a group of local people were invited to build their own homes in Honor Oak using the method of architect Walter Segal. Two residents tell us more about life on their special street WORDS BY JULIE BULL n PHOTOS BY ALEXANDER MCBRIDE WILSON

between the three original residents and those who arrived after the houses were built; no “them and us”, says Paul. “There’s still enough about what’s common to all of us – the effort that made the place connects us all somehow.” There’s an annual street party with a stage at the bottom of the road, a barbecue and live music. Any other excuse for a party is never missed. “Halloween, Christmas – there’s always something.” Because of the nature of the street, which feels more like it is located in

the middle of a wood than a major city, the children who live here have a kind of freedom that might not typically be associated with London living, says Paul. “The children play out all the time, they feel safe here, they are in and out of the houses, baking cakes. They whittle sticks and climb trees like kids from the country. We’re very connected to the wildlife of south London.” As if to prove his point, a squirrel arrives on the deck of Paul’s house and we watch it eating what looks like

Above and top right: Dave Dayes Below right: Paul Capel

a pear. In case that all sounds a little too cosy, he tells me that people still get vexed about parking. “We’re not a loved up commune”, he says. “We’re practical people living our lives.” Walters Way is built on a sloping site. Unlike a conventional build, the ground was not levelled prior to the construction of the houses and no trees were cut down to clear the land. Now the trees grow round the houses, which are elevated on concrete foundations. It is this feeling of being up in the trees that adds a special something to the interiors of the houses. The light pours in – again thanks to hallmark features of the Segal design such as corner windows.  “Almost everywhere you look you can see outside.” There’s a simplicity to the houses that is a far cry from the Grand Designs quest for perfection. For Paul



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

and his partner, this was very much part of the appeal. “It’s something about the modesty of the shape. It’s not ostentatious, it tells part of the story.” The family spent the first six months of this year in Ecuador and as much as they enjoyed the adventure, coming home was the best part, especially for their 10-year-old daughter. That, Paul says, speaks for itself about how they feel about their home. Asked to sum up the qualities that give Walters Way its special magic, Paul mentions the connection to nature and the feeling of enclosure and safety. “There’s something so peaceful here. It’s almost like a nest.” The particular magic of the place is obvious and often remarked upon, including by the hundreds of people who visit for the annual Open House London weekend. Dave describes the reaction of those coming to the street for the first time. “You walk in here and the vibe just hits you.” Only one of Dave’s children still lives at home, but his place is no empty nest. One of the beauties of the Segal method of house-building is the way it allows for spaces that adapt to meet the changing needs of the people who live in them. Like Paul, Dave has carried out a full eco-refurbishment of his house. It is clad in Accoya wood, has a groundsource heat pump that brings energy from the soil and now incorporates a beautiful, light-filled yoga studio where his lucky students get to feel as though they are ensconced within a green oasis as they practise. Dave now entertains his grandchildren at the house every

week too. “They run around, there are regular Sunday lunches. The space is alive again. The house reflects where we are at.” It really is just as Walter Segal intended. If it all sounds like an impossible ideal, it’s actually just the opposite. As Paul rightly points out, “It’s not a dream, it’s a way of living that could be shared. In other European cities it’s much more mainstream to build your own house.” The passion for the self-build ideal is still very tangible here and the wonder is that the idea has not gained more traction as a solution to the shortage of affordable housing in a city where so many people have been

The house has a power about it. If you can build your own house, you can do anything

excluded from ownership. The price of land is a key barrier and Dave’s son, Kareem Dayes, has been instrumental in finding a way round this. As founding chair of a new selfbuild community called the Rural Urban Synthesis Society (RUSS), he is reviving the self-build tradition of his family and of the borough, by developing a Community Land Trust model that has attracted support from the mayor of London’s innovation fund. Lewisham Council has now given planning permission for RUSS to construct a 33-unit development of self-built houses in Ladywell, which will be London’s largest affordable self-build housing project. Both Dave and Paul are sure that the notion of empowering people that lies at the heart of Segal’s self-build model has been absorbed by their children. To them this is normal, and it makes a different sort of mindset possible. Paul’s daughter asks him why other houses have nothing growing on the roof. Change and empowerment have run through the DNA of Dave’s family for decades. Dave thinks of his own parents bringing him here from Jamaica in the 1950s – that was their quantum leap, he says. He and Barbara coming to Walters Way and building their house, Dave’s journey from market trader to yoga teacher, their four boys – it’s all part of the way in which the house and its changing fabric are imbued with the spirit of his late wife – “our queen”, as Dave calls her. He tells me that the house represents possibility. “The house has a power about it. If you can build your own house, you can do anything.”



MAKEBELIEVE Marcus Hall Props has worked on many major West End musicals, from Hamilton and Tina to Bat Out of Hell and Kinky Boots. Chris Marcus and Jonathan Hall, who set up the company in 2006, show us behind the scenes at their new premises in Ladywell WORDS BY NIKKI SPENCER n PHOTOS BY PAUL STAFFORD

t the back of Supreme Animal Foods pet supplies in Ladywell lies a secret magical world of make believe, where cakes look delicious yet can’t be eaten, flowers bloom but have no smell and there’s an array of musical instruments that won’t play a single note. Huge shelves are stacked to the rafters with chairs and coffee tables of every design and size, piles of empty suitcases, tea sets from all eras and a plentiful supply of trays. “Nearly every show seems to need a butler’s tray, so those get used again and again”, says Chris Marcus as he and Jonathan Hall embark on a guided tour of their veritable Aladdin’s cave. In the workshop area a team of props makers are busy crafting weird and wonderful creations for stages not just in the West End, but for touring shows around the globe. “We have an incredibly talented team who have previously worked at places such as Madame Tussauds and the Royal Opera House”, explains Chris as he picks up a cup of tea and turns it upside down with a smile. “We create a lot of fake food and drink and tea is one of our specialities. A while ago we did all the cakes for the Calendar Girls musical so we had trestle tables full of cakes. You knew they weren’t real but it did still make you hungry.” By the large warehouse doors there are two huge piles of props all packaged up and ready to be shipped to Germany and the US for tours of Bat Out of Hell. “It’s an action-packed show and it’s been quite a challenge,” says Jonathan. “There’s one scene where a large white table cloth is pulled away to reveal a car underneath. That was a headache to say the least. We had to find a way to disguise a four-metre car


convincingly as a banquet table and then work out how to remove the cloth in an instant. In the end we suspended the cloth with electromagnets that could be released at the press of a button.” And that wasn’t the only conundrum. “There’s lots of furniture and quite a bit of it is in perspective. We had to have bedspreads specially made at some very funny angles. It almost sent the bedding company over the edge.” At one workbench a retro mixing desk is being built for Motown the Musical, while most of the team are busy working on a rather macabre assortment of props for A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter – a new play at the Bridge Theatre about Hans Christian Andersen, which is set in the attic of a Copenhagen townhouse. The attic is stuffed full of puppets and Chris, Jonathan and the team have been making 120 of them, from

hummingbirds to skeletons to horses, alongside other rather unusual items including a large bible filled with dolls’ heads. “Luckily we found someone in Spitalfields who was selling off a load of old dolls’ heads so we now have a plentiful supply if we ever need them for anything else”, says Chris. So how did they get into this business? Jonathan grew up in Derbyshire, left school at 16 and worked as a touring puppeteer and puppet-maker before training in stage management at London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama, while Chris, who was involved in amateur dramatics when he was growing up in Devon, studied technical theatre at Rose Bruford College in Sidcup. “We met when we were both working as stage managers on The Lion King and became friends,” explains Chris. “We went on holiday

The talented team at Marcus Hall Props have previously worked at places such as Madame Tussauds and the Royal Opera House



D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

The company has recently been working on a collection of 120 puppets for a new play about Hans Christian Andersen

to New York and late one evening we got chatting about what we wanted to do in the future. We came up with the idea of setting up our own props company.” Their services were immediately in demand and last year it became clear that they had outgrown their premises in Camberwell. Both Jonathan and Chris live in Ladywell, and they came across their new building online, although it looked nothing like it does now. “It used to be used by Acre Lifts and it was the perfect size, but when we saw it, it was just a large empty space. It was only after we moved in that we discovered there was only one plug socket in the corner and a tap with a small dribble of water coming out,” recalls Chris. “In January some friends came over from Spain for a week to help us sort it all out and they ended up staying until April!”

They hired a mezzanine company to install an upper floor where they have their office. On the wall there’s a huge whiteboard with all their current projects mapped out. They never know what they will be asked to do next. “We get requests for all sorts of random things. We had to make a body of Eva Perón for Evita and a whole lot of bodies wrapped in plastic for a show at the Donmar Warehouse”, says Chris. “You learn to just go along with it and do your best. They will want a table that is light enough for one person to lift on their finger but that 10 people can tap dance on,” Jonathan says wryly. “Some set designers present us with a rough drawing while others give us beautiful, intricately made 1:25 models of everything. We still have all the ones from Tina stored in a Quality Street tin.” As well as making things in the workshop, they regularly trawl big

antiques markets such as Ardingly, Newark, Lincoln and Kempton and closer to home, Greenwich Auctions, hunting for things that can be used as they are or adapted. “We needed thousands of old books a while back and Greenwich was good for that”, says Chris, adding that eBay is also a “ very valuable resource”. Every show works differently but once everything has been made and sourced, they then attend technical rehearsals at the theatre. “Something that someone sat and wrote at a computer may not actually work on stage, so things change all the time”, explains Jonathan. With shows going all around the world they are often travelling. “It’s been a crazy busy year – on top of moving I have been all over the place, from Tokyo for Mary Poppins and Toronto and Germany for Bat Out of Hell to Newcastle for Benidorm Live,” says Chris.

We create a lot of fake food and drink – tea is one of our specialities

“Jonathan has been mainly on our shows in London but has been to Northampton for Kinky Boots and Leeds for Calendar Girls.” Every day there’s a constant steam of vans arriving with deliveries and collections. “We know our postman very well and all the delivery company drivers too,” says Jonathan. With so much coming and going, the large warehouse doors are often open so people can see in as they walk to and from the pet shop car park at the rear of the building. “Ricky, who has run the pet shop for over 25 years, is lovely to have as a neighbour but there have been a few odd moments for his customers since we moved in”, says Jonathan. “We recently had to make a load of cut-up animal carcasses and butchered pigs’ heads out of polystyrene for a play in the West End. You could see people doing a double take as they walked past.”


he NHS is 70 years old this year, and has been rightfully revered for everything it does. It might be creaking at the seams, but without it, Britain would be unrecognisable. Less appreciated, however, is the role that immigration has played in keeping the NHS alive. Since it was formed in 1948, throughout the 1960s – when then health minister Enoch Powell asked Jamaican women to come and train as nurses – and into the present day, there would have been no NHS to speak of without immigrants. Today, nearly a quarter of staff at the Greenwich and Lewisham NHS Trust are non-UK born, and once the children and grandchildren of previous generations are considered, the impact of immigration becomes even more apparent – nearly half (46%) of Lewisham and Greenwich’s current permanent workforce are from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, a figure that is roughly mirrored in the borough’s population. Lewisham East MP Janet Daby is from one of these families. “My mother – now a retired nurse – and many other relatives of mine from the British colonies responded to a skills shortage in the UK in the Sixties. Many of them felt they were coming to the ‘motherland’, moving here for a fulfilling life and using their skills and ability to care for others,” she says. Lewisham resident Arthur Torrington, who co-founded the Windrush Foundation charity in 1996, says healthcare was a huge part of the Windrush generation’s contribution. “The NHS relied on migrant nurses immediately after the war,” he says. “It desperately needed people to serve in all aspects. Most of the nurses were women but there were a good number of male nurses too. My brother was one, in the 1960s. They worked in mental health hospitals a lot.” He says that in the 1960s a huge number of the NHS’s workforce came from Commonwealth countries such as India and the Caribbean. “They were the cream of the crop who came over and a lot of acknowledgment has to be given to those pioneers.” Nola Ishmael is a Barbadian nurse who joined the NHS in 1963. She was appointed director of nursing in Greenwich in 1989, becoming the first black director of nursing in London. She said that she, and others like her, faced unique challenges. “It was a breakthrough moment for black nurses,” she told the BBC earlier this year. “I got telephone calls far and wide offering congratulations to me. One question I got asked was whether it was a fluke. I said, oh no, it wasn’t. It was midnight oil, early morning toil, and reading and learning as I got on with the job.” She said there was a “steadfastness” about black nurses she worked with, who persevered despite often being passed over for promotion. “In the early days you never called it prejudice. I don’t think we had that word. We just knew that some people got promoted and you didn’t get promoted.” Historian, writer and former Lewisham resident Julian Simpson’s book Migrant Architects of the NHS features interviews with 40 south Asian GPs who moved to Britain in the 20th century. By the 1980s,

Prize-winning student nurses at the Dreadnought Seamen's Hospital, Greenwich, in 1954



BEATING HEART OF THE NHS When the National Health Service was founded 70 years ago, it transformed the wellbeing of the nation by offering free healthcare to all. We look at the vital role that immigration has played in keeping one of Britain's best-loved institutions alive


around 16% of GPs working in the NHS had been born in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh or Sri Lanka, delivering care for about a sixth of the population. One of Julian’s interviewees, Rooin Boomla, was a GP in Woolwich for 40 years until the late 1980s and a medical officer at Millwall football club. He took over the practice that his father, Faridoon, bought in the 1920s when the family moved here from Mumbai. Rooin’s own son Kambiz now works as a GP in Tower Hamlets. In the 1980s, south Asian doctors mostly worked in highly populated, urban areas, serving working class communities who otherwise would not have had access to primary care. “If the migration of these doctors hadn’t happened, the NHS would have had a fundamental problem,” Julian says. “The GP system would have collapsed in many parts of the country where 30, 40 and sometimes 50% of practitioners were originally from the Indian subcontinent.” Julian says he wanted to write about the stories of south Asian doctors because so many migrant histories like theirs have been erased. “There’s a general idea that there is ‘Britishness’ and then there’s migrants. We need to recognise migrants have shaped Britain. The NHS is a symbol of

It was midnight oil, early morning toil, reading and learning as I got on with the job Britishness and it could only exist because of migration.” Dame Elizabeth Anionwu is a British-born emeritus professor of nursing of Nigerian-Irish descent who campaigns to reduce inequalities facing black and minority ethnic nurses and patients. She says the NHS’s efforts to stamp out prejudice are slowly improving, following years of institutional ambivalence. Every NHS Trust must now collect data on its black and minority ethnic staff at all levels to check it is not promoting disproportionate numbers of white staff to senior roles. Trusts must also be clear on the steps they are taking to improve the balance in senior management. Dame Elizabeth says that in 2017, there was a small incremental difference in the number of black and minority ethnic people at senior levels for the first time. “It’s taken a long time for the NHS to realise that individuals can’t tackle this – it has to be tackled from the top,” she says. Treating NHS staff who are already here more fairly is one challenge Britain is facing; and with Brexit looming, the other is continuing to convince new staff to come. Author and editor-at-large of the Guardian, Gary Younge, is the son of a Barbadian nurse who came to the UK in the 1960s. He says: “People say it’s because of immigrants you can’t see a doctor, when actually it’s far more likely that your doctor is an immigrant.” He says politicians have failed to challenge the harsh, negative language that gets used around immigration. As a result, there is little awareness of how necessary it is to Britain’s health. The NHS was founded in 1948, the same year the Empire Windrush first docked; it has relied on immigration ever since. But Britain has a challenging time ahead: by underappreciating everything immigrants have done over the last 70 years, it is likely to face difficulty in recruiting the people it needs in the future.




D ECE M B E R 2 0 18/JA NUA RY 201 9

Gurbakhsh Garcha was a "gentle but persuasive" voice within the local community

much-loved and respected former Labour councillor and mayor – and campaigner on many issues – passed away in

September. Gurbakhsh Garcha left his mark on Lewisham and the world at large in many ways. A prominent and active anti-racist and anti-fascist peace activist, he worked on both a small and large scale. Locally he brought faith groups in south London together, set up youth clubs and campaigned to help schools, while simultaneously lobbying for global nuclear disarmament and working on books that bridged nations. Growing up in a Sikh family in Punjab, India, he witnessed the horror of partition – the enforced splitting of India, creating Pakistan, as well as the dividing of Hindus and Muslims. Last year Gurbakhsh spoke to the BBC in an interview about what he experienced, marking 70 years since partition. He described seeing families – including his own – split apart, as well as the struggle, violence and death that ensued. “Your whole psyche changes when you are living through that sort of thing. I don’t think you are normal anymore having seen such horrid

A LEWISHAM LEGACY Gurbakhsh Garcha was a passionate and inspiring campaigner on issues from the local to the global. The former councillor and mayor, who died in September, will be much missed WORDS BY EMMA FINAMORE

things,” he told the BBC. “You just slowly change and come to accept what is happening around you. My faith in humanity is shaken.” Surviving this trauma, Gurbakhsh arrived in the UK in 1958, settling in south London and marrying his wife, Ruth – whom he described as “London born and brought up” – in 1962. Alongside his professional life in medical research (from which he retired in 1998) he became an active member of the Labour party, serving as a Lewisham councillor for 20 years from 1986 to 2006. During this period Gurbakhsh played an active role in setting up an education directorate in Lewisham after the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority by Margaret Thatcher. He also served as deputy mayor and mayor of Lewisham from 1994-95 and then as a member of the cabinet before retiring from the council. One of the many local groups Gurbakhsh worked with was the Lewisham Anti-Racist Action Group (LARAG). “Throughout much of


my 26 years of campaigning against racism and fascism while living in Lewisham, Gurbakhsh was always a consistent, prominent part of the network of activists, councillors and local people who turned up, spoke up and contributed in whatever way they could to these vital campaigns,” said LARAG’s Richard von Abendorff. “He always did this with his unique personal experience and perspective. He managed to combine this with many other related campaigning activities, whether local or national anti-war and anti-imperialist events, local community events, crossfaith committees or progressive campaigning in the Labour party. “I will draw strength from remembering his energetic and inspiring contributions to progress, tolerance and understanding, justice and peace. I will certainly try to continue his work, learning from his respectful, gentle manner and diligence, while speaking the truth to power.” Gurbakhsh channelled this energy into local religious efforts too, bringing

together different groups in south London and chairing the Standing Advisory Council on Religious Education for 14 years. He also worked on a book promoting interfaith relationships. Together & Different: Christians Engaging with People of Other Faiths was written by local campaigner Sarah Thorley and Malcolm Torry, with collaboration from Gurbakhsh. It tells the stories of a variety of community projects between members of Christian churches and people of other faiths. Like everything Gurbakhsh did, it strove to bridge divides and bring people together. This striving spirit was also channelled into broader global issues: Gurbakhsh was secretary of the Lewisham branch of the United Nations Association, which organises events to raise awareness and interest in the work of the UN. He was also part of the local Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) group, which works to “scrap nuclear weapons and create genuine security for future generations”.

He made energetic contributions to progress, tolerance and understanding

Speaking of the group’s meeting in early October following Gurbakhsh’s death, Anne Schuman, of the CND Sydenham and Forest Hill branch, said: “It was a subdued gathering, the sun had set completely, and we all were feeling the loss of Gurbakhsh very much. “The impression of a soft-spoken man, with white hair and beard, who turned up at so many different meetings and who spoke of many problems and possible solutions with fluency and passion, will live with us for a long time. “I often complained that he spoke so softly he was hard to hear, and he would apologise and raise his voice for a few sentences. His natural temperament soon reasserted itself though, and the gentle but persuasive voice made itself known. Always very well informed, courteous and helpful, he will be very much missed by our group, as he always made a positive contribution to the discussion. “A lot of people in Lewisham and beyond from very different backgrounds knew Gurbakhsh through his active involvement in many groups, from the CND, the United Nations Association and LARAG, from his time as a Crofton Park councillor and as Labour mayor of Lewisham. “We remember him working with interfaith groups, his firm belief in internationalism, his pride in Lewisham as a diverse community and his unwavering commitment to human rights and world peace. He was a longstanding active member of our CND group and he continued to be involved at 83, despite creaky knees. “His family – whom he adored and spoke of often – shared his beliefs. Ruth always encouraged him, although I’m sure she wished that he would occasionally say no, and was at many of our events providing fantastic jams and cakes for our annual plant fair to raise funds for the children of Chernobyl. Gurbakhsh made a huge contribution to many lives and will be sadly missed.” Gurbakhsh’s compassion and efforts didn’t just extend to issues affecting mankind: he was also passionate about the environment and wildlife preservation, and was a supporter of English Heritage, the National Trust and the London Wildlife Trust. In April this year he was still sharing campaigns via his social media accounts, touching on everything from school funding, violence and library privatisation to environmental issues. Gurbakhsh’s wife Ruth said: “His contribution and the manner in which it was conveyed, through patience, persuasion and non-acrimonious, inclusive argument was reflected in the congregation of 300 who attended his memorial. As a family we know how seriously, sympathetically and unselfishly he took his role.” His son Simon added: “It goes almost without saying that he was loved deeply by his wife and family. It was heartening to see and hear how much this love was reflected by those who worked alongside him, and even sometimes in opposition to him. It was the mark of this beautiful man.”


SOMETHING TO EAT Chorizo and chickpea stew This recipe from a Forest Hill food writer's new cookbook is a real winter warmer

Method 1 Place a large, wide, high-sided pan with a lid over a medium heat and add a tiny splash of cooking oil – the sausage will release plenty of fat, so you barely need any. 2 Add the chorizo and brown thoroughly all over, until really well caramelised. Work in batches if necessary, to avoid crowding the pan and stewing the meat. Remove and set aside, leaving the red fat behind in the pan. 3 Add the onions and red pepper, and saute until soft, for about 10 minutes. Next add the garlic and paprika and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. 4 Add the tomatoes and enough hot water to loosen the stew so that it doesn’t dry out during cooking. Bring to a simmer, cover partially with a lid, then turn the heat down and let it bubble for 15 minutes. Add the chickpeas to the pan along with the cooked chorizo, stir and heat through. 5 Serve topped with the coriander, and with a hunk of crusty bread or toast for mopping up the sauce.

Apart from spending our hard-earned cash on wine, we also buy a lot of books, especially from Moon Lane Books on Stanstead Road, and from Smallprint on St David’s Road. This warming wintry recipe is from my fifth cookbook, Happy OnePot Cooking, which I wrote with the team at healthy fast-food chain Leon and is out now. Please look out for two more recipe books from me in 2019 as well. Ingredients (serves 4 generously) Splash of vegetable oil 400g cooking chorizo, sliced into 1cm chunks 2 onions, finely diced 1 long red pepper, seeded and chopped into small chunks 1 clove of garlic, crushed 2 teaspoons sweet or hot smoked paprika 2 400g cans of chopped tomatoes (or use passata for a smoother sauce) 2 400g cans of chickpeas, drained and rinsed Salt and freshly ground black pepper Handful of roughly chopped, fresh coriander Crusty bread or toast



6 CDEEFIKRR (anagram) (9) 7 HJNO (anagram) (4) 9 AHIMNNOR (anagram) (8) 10 Way of standing (6) 11 Sag, droop (3) 12 Small (6) 14 Receive, take in (6) 16 Bird's claw (5) 17 Remove clothes (5) 18 Savour (5) 20 Divide (5) 23 Truthful (6) 25 Vinegar acid (6) 26 However (3) 27 Reason for action (6) 29 Urgent message (8) 31 Apartment (4) 32 Eight-sided (9)

1 Illegal fire-raiser (8) 2 Biblical paradise (4) 3 Brass instrument (7) 4 Outrage (7) 5 Opportunity (6) 7 Fast plane (3) 8 Middle (6) 10 Bridge's length (4) 13 Two times (5) 15 Pursue (5) 17 Plot (6) 19 Three-hulled vessel (8) 20 Eye inflammation (4) 21 Salad vegetable (7) 22 Carefully arranged scene (7) 24 Stinging plant (6) 28 Animal doctor (3) 30 Get bigger (4)



6 across, 7 across and 9 across is a famous former resident of Forest Hill. 1






7 8


10 11





16 17

18 20





22 25

26 27







The woman who wrote the Neighbours theme tune once lived in Forest Hill. Jackie Trent was born in Staffordshire in 1940, the daughter of a coal miner. She dreamed of a career in pop from an early age and sang to audiences in local working men’s clubs. During the 1960s she moved to Forest Hill and in 1965 she had a number one hit with Where Are You Now (My Love), knocking The Beatles’ Ticket to Ride off the top spot. She and her husband Tony Hatch wrote more than 400 songs for stars including Petula Clark.


I’m a food and drink writer and TV presenter, and I live and work in Forest Hill with my husband, the photographer Steve Joyce and our small daughters, Isla and Coralie. Steve and I run a new food and drink photography studio called Kemble House in Forest Hill, too. We have lived here for nearly six years, and before that we rented in Honor Oak. We feel very lucky to have stumbled on the area after being priced out of Herne Hill – we’ve both lived in London for a long time, but never somewhere with such a strong sense of community. There are so many parks for the kids (Blythe Hill is a favourite, especially now my friend Ellie has parked her coffee van, Perlant & Press, there), and we are forever grateful to be so close to the Horniman. I love that more interesting places for grown-ups are springing up too – like Bottle Bar and Shop in Catford and Clapton Craft beer and wine shop in Forest Hill. 


In the 1980s they moved to Australia and were asked to write the theme tune for a new soap opera called Ramsay Street. When they finished the song – with Hatch composing the music and Trent penning the lyrics – the producers liked it so much they changed the soap’s name to Neighbours. Trent died in Menorca in 2015.

ACROSS: 6 Frederick, 7 John, 9 Horniman, 10 Stance, 11 Dip, 12 Little, 14 Accept, 16 Talon, 17 Strip, 18 Taste, 20 Split, 23 Honest, 25 Acetic, 26 Yet, 27 Motive, 29 Telegram, 31 Flat, 32 Octagonal. DOWN: 1 Arsonist, 2 Eden, 3 Trumpet, 4 Scandal, 5 Chance, 7 Jet, 8 Centre, 10 Span, 13 Twice, 15 Chase, 17 Scheme, 19 Trimaran, 20 Stye, 21 Lettuce, 22 Tableau, 24 Nettle, 28 Vet, 30 Grow.

Profile for Lewisham Ledger

Issue 4 of The Lewisham Ledger  

Issue 4 of The Lewisham Ledger