Interviews on Tooting – Personal Reflections

Sugar & Spice celebrates the High Street as we know it today. Meet some of the local people, past and present, breathing life into our shops, streets, and sense of community.

Corner Shop Memories at 67 Selkirk Road

As far as I know my grandparents on my father’s side were born in Tottenham originally. They moved to Barnet, and then, when my dad was two, they moved from Barnet across London to Tooting. They took the shop on in 1922. My nan and granddad ran it until they retired to Peacehaven. Aunty Maud (Dad’s eldest sister) took it on after that and was there until my granddad passed away.  She went to live in Peacehaven to look after my nan. That was 1963 and that’s when my dad took over the shop. It had been in the family for 50 years. It was W.H. Jennett originally (my granddad’s name) when my dad took over it changed to W.J. Jennett. We sold up in 1972.

It was a general store – selling bread, butter, packet foods like tea and biscuits, tinned foods as well as cigarettes, that type of thing. We had a big fridge to keep the big sides of bacon in that we had delivered. You’d have smoked and green bacon. The term green is used just to say unsmoked. You had a whole side of a pig and all the rib bones had to be taken out, I was only 11 when my dad taught me how to do it. I’d have a little boning knife to get the ribs and the hock bone out. He used to cook his own ham in a big saucepan, ruined my mum’s cooker! Eventually it went on to buying it already done [deboned] but that was a lot later on. We had a bacon slicing machine. I used to clean it, it frightens me to death when I think about it now, on a Friday night I used to hold a knife against the blade and turn the handle, and when I think about it – what could have happened.

I was working there evenings and weekends from the age of 16 after I finished my full time job, I would get home and Dad would say, “give us a hand in the shop”. There were no adding up tills in those days, we had pounds, shillings, and pence – not decimal. You had to know 12 pennies to a shilling, 20 shillings to a pound, you had a long shopping list and that had to be added up in your head, not easy. My dad paid me with treats like a new outfit, no wages as such.

My dad was open 365 days a year – never closed. The only time my mum had to run the shop was when my dad was ill, and for him not to work – he must have been bad. Christmas morning we were open but in the afternoon some customers would still knock on our side door if they forgot milk or bread. We were open weekdays from 8am to 7pm with an hour closed for lunch, 9am to 1pm on Sundays. My dad loved it.

It was difficult living in the shop because even when closed, customers still knocked for forgotten items. Also, as our living room door opened onto the shop,
people could see into our living room if dad didn’t shut the door. We had two chairs in the shop, customers would come in to do their shopping and be there an
hour chatting – telling my dad to serve other customers as they were happy sitting there waiting. I can still see in my mind my dad standing there with his arms
folded, chatting away.

In 1972, after we sold the shop, my dad went back to work in the school service as an assistant caretaker, he did that until he reached 65 when he had to retire. In those days you couldn’t carry on past retirement age. The shop is living accommodation now, all the shops in that area are gone. There was a dairy, my dad’s shop, and a paper shop. We knew the Thomas family in the dairy and we used to help each other out. If we ran out we could borrow from them or
vice versa. We sold a lot of the same stuff in both shops.

Jill Hopkin

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Photo courtesy: Jill Hopkin
Photo courtesy: Jill Hopkin
Photo courtesy: Jill Hopkin
Photo courtesy: Jill Hopkin

Teenage Years in Tooting – Roger Hunter

I was born on 3rd July and my mum was working in the bank right up until 30th June. The bank manager sent her home as they were so worried she’d have me in the bank.

We lived on Rookstone Road, just off the main road, opposite Smith Brothers. My aunt and uncle worked at Smith Bros – that’s where they met and they were married for donkey’s years after that. We lived in a house with my grandparents. They had the downstairs, then we had the upstairs – mum, dad, my three brothers, and my sister. Seven of us. My dad was a printer.

We weren’t wealthy. We used to play in the street. The streets were so quiet with not much traffic. We’d play football in the road. Or cricket sometimes. There was a lamppost we would use as the cricket stumps. A friend of mine hit the ball so high and hard one day that it was heading straight for the window of the house opposite. I saw it play out in slow motion – and just at the moment it should have smashed through the window, the woman inside opened it and the ball flew straight past her. We didn’t wait to see what her reaction was, we all ran for it!

There was one scary moment in the streets when I ran out into the road without looking. There was this car coming that screeched to a halt, but not without first going over my toes. A neighbour took me into their house to assess any damage – I think my mum was so shocked so the neighbour took charge. I didn’t break any toes. I was fine. Just shocked.

We used to go to the Granada on a Saturday morning. Sixpence used to get me a ticket for the film and a Coke. We’d see a cartoon, the feature film, and what they used to call a serial, which was normally something like Zoro or Batman getting into scrapes and ending on a cliffhanger that would be continued the next week.

Potatoes seemed to be the staple diet from what I can remember. And Spam. I didn’t care for it – didn’t like the taste of meat generally. So when I was 12, in 1964 I became a vegetarian. It was unusual at the time and my friends saw it as a novelty. My mum thought it was a phase but I’m still a vegetarian now and I’m fit and healthy. My mum died years ago but, when I used to go and visit her, she’d still ask if I was “still a vegetarian” after all these years!

Eating out was tricky as a vegetarian back then. You weren’t offered much more than a cheese salad. Mum didn’t know what to make me so I’d say, “just cook what you normally do but leave the meat off for me”. One meal I remember was very strange – I was given a plate full of mashed potatoes with chips sticking out the top! I think that day I was off playing football all day. It can’t have been a great diet for that but I’ve done alright on it. It’s so much easier now.

My grandmother ran a stall in Tooting Market and I’d go and help her on Saturday mornings. It was a toy stall. She put me in charge of the Corgi and Matchbox cars. I got pocket money for doing it. A couple of shillings, something like that. It would have been about 1963. There was a record shop just a way along. I’d have the radio on and my grandmother would tell me to turn it off as it might spoil their sales.

I did collect records myself. I’m a huge Beatles fan and have lots of memorabilia. My greatest regret is not being able to see The Beatles when they played The Granada. I was desperate to see them but the tickets were 7 and 6 each and my mum just couldn’t afford it. I do regret that. I would have loved to have seen them. I remember they stayed in Trevellian Road when they played there.

In my early teens I used to go with friends to watch the wrestling (English professional wrestling) at the Granada. I remember Rebel Ray Hunter and Mick McManus. It was in the evenings. They also did “midget wrestling” which you wouldn’t do these days.

At 14 I was doing paper rounds. I started off with an evening route, delivering the Evening News and the Evening Standard. I then took a morning paper round. I had to be up and out on my bike at 5.30am in all weathers. I do remember complaining of the cold and my mum got me wearing her nylon tights under my trousers which did seem to help! It used to take me about an hour to do the paper round. I remember I got 12 and 6 a week for it. On a Saturday I would also collect the classified newspapers from the train station at 6.30pm to take to the newsagent and there were lines of men wanting them for the football results at the shop, keen to read the scores.

In my later teens I’d go to The Castle pub. They had a blues club there for 5-7 shillings, something like that, and I got to see Mott the Hoople, Rory Gallager etc.

I remember the Teddy Boys in Tooting. They had a reputation and used to hand around the amusement arcade near the tube station. We didn’t go in there. Later on it was the mods and the rockers. I was a mod. I remember buying a Lambretta LI150. I remember hanging a furry tiger’s tail on the back of it – I think you got it from the ESSO garage, yes, “put a tiger in your tank”. I do remember hearing stories of trouble and scrapping down in Brighton between the mods and the rockers. I was too young for that and didn’t do the seaside trips down there.

Roger Hunter

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From Toys to Theatre – Henry Mendoza

When I think about Tooting, multicultural is the main thing that comes to mind for me. That has been my entire experience of Tooting. It has always felt embedded into our schooling and education. I found it surprising that some people didn’t learn about Mary Seacole recently. I remember learning about it in Year 2. I remember we would do things at school where we had the opportunity to take in bits from our family culture or religion – you could take in bits of food for instance. The Sri Lankan kids would bring in curry. I asked if I could take in stuff to represent my heritage. I took in apples and honey to represent Rosh HaShanah. 

My own heritage is a weird one because I am not particularly religious, neither is most of my family. We’re a white, relatively middle class family, but we do have some Jewish heritage. My dad’s family is Jewish. My dad had a bar mitzvah. I didn’t have one. We used to go to my grandparents for Passover. I have always been interested in people’s religious beliefs and what makes them tick. So having a little bit of that for myself was interesting growing up. I didn’t feel sufficiently personally committed to the religion growing up to have a bar mitzvah. As I felt it would be for the experience and for slightly expensive gifts which felt a bit morally devious. I would go to my family for other Jewish festivals. 

Looking back and thinking about toys and things, I’m trying to think if there was a Toys R Us around here when I was growing up. It’s difficult to remember as they aren’t around anymore. I’m sure we must have picked up the odd thing – in the Poundland or on the shelves at Sainsbury’s. To be honest I think a lot of our toys would have come from the McDonald’s Happy Meals – back in the days when they did good toys! It was a way to collect toys from whatever the latest film was that we were obsessed with as kids.

Film and cinema in general has been a huge part of my life. The first film I think I ever saw in the cinema was Toy Story 2, having basically been watching the first film since moments out of the womb. We had a very old battered VHS version of Toy Story that I played on repeat on repeat on repeat. It’s a miracle that it didn’t fall to pieces. That and Thomas the Tank Engine were probably all I watched, all day, at any given weekend. It was one of the most exciting things ever to go and see it at the cinema. Buzz Lightyear and all those toys were a huge part of my life. I had a Buzz Lightyear toy growing up.

I think I had at least three or four birthday parties growing up at Tiger’s Eye, and latterly at Wacky Warehouse. The Tiger’s Eye was like Wacky Warehouse – soft play, ball pits, and stuff like that. I can’t remember if it was towards Tooting Bec. 

I think our clothes probably came from Primark growing up. Our shoes definitely were from Clark’s, there was one on the High Street.

Growing up here all my life, me and my siblings were born at St. George’s Hospital. I went to a school 10 minutes away, the library I went to often is close by. I’ve lived here all my life with the exception of going to university. It holds a special place in my heart – so many family and friends are still based here. So much of my London life is tied up with Tooting. Even friends who didn’t live here and have moved here since and loved it. We used to do all sorts of things – like there used to be a great burger place called Steakside Kitchen. We’re absolutely gutted it’s gone. It’s now a letting agent. It was short-lived. Mainly because the people who were running it seemed to be doing it part-time. No one ever knew when they were open, but when they were they did exceptionally good food! They did fantastic burgers and were halal-friendly too. We would order from there whenever we could find out they were actually open! 

I remember Tooting Arts Club. It was set up by a woman named Rachel, her surname escapes me. She’d worked as a theatre producer. She lives around here and wanted to set up a theatre company based in Tooting. They’d done one or two productions. Then they did this Sweeney Todd. It was made up of a cast mainly of not West End veterans, but a good cast. It was a great production – the concept was to do Sweeney Todd but in an actual pie and mash shop – so they did it in Harrington’s – the oldest pie and mash shop in London. Only seats 30 people and is opposite a hairdresser’s as well. You couldn’t have a more perfect setting for an experiential and site-specific setting if you tried! It was this absolutely fantastic production. As I say, you can only fit 30 people in. The booths you were sitting in were really tight. It was tiny and limited capacity – it all felt very intimate. The stage space was literally the space between the booths, the till and a staircase! It was absolutely tiny and there was one moment when Sweeney jumps on the table and turns to a random member of the audience and says “You Sir, how about a shave?” and holds a razor towards them. My dad happened to be sitting in the awkward spot that night, and was absolutely falling over himself with laughter! They also offered a ticket when you could have pie and mash before the show. Thankfully before, so anyone that wasn’t familiar with Sweeny Todd didn’t have to worry about what was in the pies! It was a very exciting bit of theatre. It was hugely exciting and it was the first thing I came home from uni for. Later in the year, my lecturer used it as an example of great site-specific theatre and asked if anyone had seen it. I could put my hand up. She was jealous! 

Now, as an adult, the places I’d recommend for food and drink are The Selkirk [pub], The Trafalgar Arms [pub], The Gorringe Park [pub], Pizzeria Isabella, and Samrat which is right next to Tooting Rail station – a lovely little old fashioned curry house. It’s not the fanciest, but it does really good food. Whenever we have family and friends, that’s where we go if we want a curry.

I realised when I was at university there were things that I took for granted – like knowing people from different backgrounds – growing up in Tooting has been a privilege and really informed who I am. 

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When a Puppet Theatre Came to Tooting

Here is a potted history of The Nomad Studio and how we came to be in Tooting.

Way back in the 1960s, when we lived in Ghana, my mother (Pat Calder) started making puppets after a friend had given my sister and I some Pelham puppets that we were too young to use. My mother performed a show from us and then became inspired to make and perform her own shows. When we returned to the UK, around 1970, she had her first Theatre in Battersea Park and as we were always travelling around she chose the name “Nomad Puppets”. From 1978 she moved the puppet theatre to a tiny attic in Kingly Street behind Carnaby Street in London’s West End. There, she performed puppet shows every weekend and also did private parties. I became her assistant during this time.

Due to family circumstances we needed to find a different place to live, so in 1978 we bought the top flat at 37 Upper Tooting Road (this was not the flat that we turned into a theatre). All this while we continued doing shows at the Kingly Street theatre and I trained at as an actor at LAMDA for three years. When we first moved to Tooting I was very excited that my bedroom looked out at The Classic Cinema and in the summer when the projectionist kept the rear window open for late night movies we could hear sounds coming from the late night films.

In about 1986 The lease expired on the Kingly Street studio so there was a temporary break for the puppets, and I was now concentrating on my acting career. In 1988/9, Teresa and Lionel, who lived in the flat below us, decided to move and so we borrowed the money to buy their flat. We then had builders knock some walls through and built our tiny theatre with a seating capacity of 50. I wrote and performed the first play performed there in April 1989 and we also began doing the weekend puppet shows again with my mother making the puppets and creating new shows.

This continued until 2001 with my mother employing new assistants as I had moved on from about 1993.

Our Tooting connection ended after we sold the theatre and our flat to JR Hardwares who owned the shop below the Theatre in 2002.

Years later in St. Ives, we created another theatre based on what we had achieved with the flat in Tooting, this time transforming an old pilchard cellar into The Boathouse Theatre. The puppets were given a new lease of life for nearly 10 years. We have now given a lot of the puppets to a local touring theatre company but a few of our “stars” are living with us in The Rookery…including my mother who unfortunately has very little agility, especially with her hands, so had stopped making puppets about five years ago.

Making and repairing the puppets was always my mother’s department.  However, I remember she would go to the market in Tooting Broadway where there was a fabric seller and come back with materials for puppet costumes.

We definitely shopped locally during that time.

Jason Calder

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Nursing Life

St. George’s Nurses, 1976. Photo courtesy: Margaret Zwirek
Fircroft School, Key Stage One Poetry Workshop
Fircroft School, Key Stage One Poetry Workshop
Homegrown – Collage Art

I went to a girl’s grammar school which was very old fashioned. The boys were told about Oxford and Cambridge University but the girls were only told about nursing, teaching, or working in Marks and Spencer. My friends from school nearly all took one of those options. I chose nursing to be able to care for people.

My parents who always encouraged their four girls to be educated and to work hard. We all went to university. After training I specialised in gynaecology, and women’s diseases and disorders. I preferred nursing women because I was very shy and the male patients sometimes terrified me. I was not used to men. They used to tease us and I used to be very embarrassed.

We lived in Bronte House Tooting in the entrance to the hospital. The rooms were pretty basic with an electric bar fire on the wall. I liked living there because we all met in the common room and we were never lonely. We also lived in Lansdowne Drive Wimbledon. This was a lovely flat which I shared with my best friends, Rhona and Veronica. I loved it there. We had parties all the time.

We lived in Knightsbridge in Montpellier Street. Our walk to work at Hyde Park was past Harrods and all the expensive shops that we couldn’t afford to shop in! We lived at St George’s Grove, Tooting after the old hospital at Hyde Park Corner closed and the new Tooting site was built. I hated it there. We were in between the psychiatric hospital and a council estate where the men harassed us if we walked by. I was lonely there as all my friends were on different shifts and I spent a lot of time alone.

We wore cotton uniform, white with a blue stripe running down the fabric. The belts were starched white in the first year of training and you could not put on weight because they were stiff and very tight! In the second year we wore pale blue belts and when you had passed your hospital and state final exams you wore a navy belt. The aprons were starched white cotton and we were in big trouble if we were seen wearing them away from the ward. They were very strict in St. George’s but they taught us well. We wore paper hats until we qualified and then we wore starched hats which we had to make up ourselves. It was a nightmare putting them together. We used to pay a penny for someone else to make it up for us sometimes. We wore black shoes and tights. The part of the uniform I loved was the woollen Cape which was navy blue outside and bright red inside with cross bands which looked like red cross when done up.

Doctors were gods and we were their handmaidens! I got into trouble because I did not accept that they could speak to me in a sexist or belittling fashion!

I left nursing in 1980 and went to university to study social sciences. After that I trained as a health visitor, then as a teacher. For the rest of my career I was a lecturer and finally I was a consultant safeguarding nurse in charge of the community staff across East Sussex. I am now retired but I still teach about medical terminology at the Royal Marsden Hospital a few times a year.

If I had my time again I would have liked to have been a doctor – particularly a dermatologist.

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Koi Ramen – Japanese Soul Food in Tooting Market

I run Koi Ramen bar. It’s a Japanese noodle and gyoza bar in Tooting Market; also in Brixton and Elephant & Castle too. 

I always wanted to start my own businesses; ramen is my favourite food. I found ramen when I was teaching English in Japan. When I came back to London to start working, I went to look for ramen and I couldn’t find any. I was thinking about this for 10 years – “How was there not good ramen in London?” Eventually I thought, “you know what, I’m going to try and learn how to make ramen”, and that’s how it started. I wanted to start my own business. I love ramen and I felt it was an opportunity and a gap in the market. I quit my job in 2013 and started the business in February 2014.

Everyone thinks of sushi when it comes to Japanese food, but it’s ramen that is the most common food. You can find a ramen shop on every single street in Japan. It’s basically their soul food. There’s lots of good food in Japan.

I was taught by a Japanese ramen chef. He gave me a basic recipe. I came back to London and started practising myself in my kitchen, for about six months two or three times a week. I like to keep it authentic and pretty much how they make it in Japan. All the ingredients are imported from Japan – so every single essence of flavour and aroma is the same as you’d have in Japan. The cooking procedure is how I was taught and to be honest I don’t know any other way. I like authentic and I’m not into fancy, putting loads of stuff in or fusion. It’s just the way I like it and hopefully customers like it and they come! We have a family connection to Japan and want to represent it well. 

Tooting Market reminds me of the Asian markets back home at my parents’ home. Lots of small little places, so you can try lots of things from different places. So, you’re not just going to one restaurant to eat their food, you can snack around here, there, and everywhere. You can have this, and your friend can have that, and you all sit around in a food court environment. You can all try different types of things. I love that.

For me, working there, it’s nice to be part of a family, like between the traders, and the camaraderie is also great.

I think the British [palette] has improved immensely over the last 20 years. All the young kids can eat sushi. I was 20+ years old before I could and now it’s just normal. I think it’s developed so much and we’re so much more open to trying things.

Food is life.

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Authentic Japanese Ramen

Fabric is Life – Guru Kirpa Fabrics

My family is from Afghanistan. My great grandad started there in fabrics and we’ve carried it on. He had a shop – same as now. My grandfather and father started off in Tooting market. They came here with nothing in their pockets. Now, the shop has been open for nearly 20 years. 

We initially wanted to go to Shepherds Bush, but I don’t think my father could get a good deal on a store. Then he realised this store was up for lease and we took a chance. It’s the best decision he made. There weren’t many fabric stores around then – they took a chance. They saw a gap in the market and thought let’s take a chance.  

I was born here in ’96 and I grew up here. My earliest memory is of my dad about to open up the shop. My dad used to do odd jobs and saved up to open up the shop. I used to come and help out on the weekend. I think as a child I found it a bit boring as I didn’t know what to do. Eventually, as I was growing up, when I hit around 15-16 I took more interest in the business – learning about the fabrics, how to cut the fabrics, the measurements etc. My dad always wanted me to go into the trade and carry on the business. His employees have always been amazing, helping me out and teaching me about the fabrics. 

We have a lot of regular customers: tailors, makers, customers who want to decorate for parties, people coming in for music videos to decorate with fabrics – just the general household needs as well – things like tablecloths.

Our shop is colourful, vibrant, with different fabrics, textures, and colours. There must be thousands of fabrics in the store, plus we have a basement full to the brim with more. It’s like Aladdin’s cave. We also have two storage places near where we live, full to the brim! 

Our fabrics come from around the world. Some come from Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Dubai (UAE), India, Pakistan. Our pure silks come from India. My dad usually travels a few times of the year to places like India, Dubai, Thailand once a year, all around generally to source fabrics. We have contacts that we can buy from too who send it over. It’s difficult as you have to try to predict what trend will come up, or new items that you know aren’t on the market yet, which will have high demand. 

There are a lot of seamstresses in Tooting and we work well together – sharing clients and working together. Without it we wouldn’t last – the support.  There’s loads of things you need fabric for luckily. Fabric is part of your everyday life! We know our neighbours, our local tailors, and stay in touch so they come back.

I think Tooting has changed miraculously. I think its an amazing place to shop around. You’ve different cuisines of food, you can eat all different things, you’ve your local stores, your fabric stores, there are seamstresses, you’ve your local supermarkets, people around from different backgrounds, different cultures that all come together in this little place called Tooting. Its just an amazing place. It’s cool. You have local people, the people who come to travel to Tooting for the local food! 

Pawandeep Gulati  

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I joined Oxfam in 2001, just 11 days before the dreadful attacks in America. It’s how I remember the start date bizarrely. The first shop was local to where I live in Sidcup. My shop was in Bexley Heath. I made some changes and made some more money, and the Area Manager said, “What else can you do?” They offered me another shop and I took that. Then one day he said to me, “Do you fancy going to have a look at a shop in Tooting? Brand new refurb, so I came here, that would have been I think 2004. On arriving here the shop was closed. It had been closed for six months and we had paid a huge amount of money to refurbish it –  it had had asbestos right across  the front. It was all brand spanking new downstairs, anyone who likes a shop could not have said no. Everything was brand new, painted, fitted the lot.

He said, “Are you sure?”
I said, “Yes.”
He said, “Now, would you like to go upstairs?”

Upstairs had not been refurbished, nor emptied. The lift was condemned and I went back downstairs and he said, “What do you think?”. I said, “I need an army.” He said “It’s up to you, you either take it, or we give it back.” So I said I’d take it. So, I had a five year plan to come to Tooting from Sidcup and it clearly didn’t work. 

So, the next time I came to Tooting was to work on this shop plan. As I came out of Tooting Broadway station the very first thing I thought of was Citizen Smith, and Wolfie, and having served his screen mum in Marks & Spencers many years before. It was really like, “wow”. I can remember walking down the High Street and instantly the vibe was incredible. The vibe, the smells, it was chilled, I can’t explain it. There was some brands here then, I remember seeing Marks & Spencers, it was very dated, with my M&S history  I knew it was close; they hadn’t invested any money in it. There was a Clark’s shoe shop and a Mothercare. So it wasn’t rammed full of brands, which was kinda of part of its attraction, but it had some brands here, which told me from a retail view that it must be a good High Street.

Over the years, sadly, the brands have gone. Lots of independent shops have appeared. Plus the market – it’s absolutely amazing how people have used that space.  One of the things that I love about Tooting is, somehow, on a Saturday, there is still a guy getting away with selling watches from his raincoat! It’s all portable but in all honesty I’ve never seen a policeman move a street seller on here! Loads of bhangra we used to hear on a Saturday – we don’t seem to hear it so much now, I don’t know what’s changed. There was just something about it…

I’m 60 now, so for me to endure a train journey that can be up to six hours a day, there has to be something to make you keep coming.

These days, we are very much trying to be a retail brand and outlet, because if you don’t present yourself in that way in the current climate, you won’t survive. One of the current misconceptions is that our shops are free [to run] and they are absolutely not. We rent and the majority of our shops, our landlords, are there to raise their funds – they have bills to pay at the end of the day. So, effectively, our guidelines are to run these as if they are a retail outlet, obviously with a volunteer team and with donated goods – so that’s what’s difficult; that’s what is the challenge, and that’s what’s fun.

The unique thing about us is the premises is the first floor that we have. We’ve been able to offer the space to Sewing and Sanctuary. We have area meetings here and we have warehoused for the area and we’ve done all kinds of things internally for Oxfam with this second floor. Sewing and Sanctuary is for a group of women from CARAS (Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers). We’ve had seven volunteers successfully start with us from this.

Sadly, I think as with food banks, there will be a rise in people buying second-hand. That’s why our offer needs to hit the criteria of feeling as good as new here and nice and clean and tidy.

Jan, Manager of Tooting Oxfam for 18 years

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Settling in Tooting

I moved here in 2009 – then it was just a place in south London where a mate had a flat. Now, I don’t want to consider living anywhere else! 

There are some unique gems around the High Street; craft shops, food outlets, markets, scrap stores, and the lido). We have lost a few shops on the high street and gained a few smaller businesses, especially in the markets. BYO is a great place to stock up on food essentials without all the packaging, then go next door to Love Art for gifts – mostly handmade in the UK.  The biggest changes for me are the ways we use the green spaces and how often we open a road for people to celebrate – Foodival, Diwali, Tooting Twirl, Tour De Tooting, Trashcatchers Carnival. This week, for the first time in decades, Fishponds has regular opening times for the public to use it and won’t be locked if there is no organised sport happening.

What makes Tooting home is the connections I have made with the people and the organisations here – roots I have bedded in.

Before I started working and volunteering with Transition Town Tooting (TTT) in 2010 I was aware of basic environmental care actions like recycling and avoiding carbon-heavy travel. Still, I wasn’t really engaged with any joined-up thinking about it. I know we have awful and illegal levels of air pollution in Tooting. We have a lot of people hanging tight to ideas about prioritizing cars and objecting sharply to bike sheds and cycle lanes. Also, council support for arts and environmental activities is dwindling and services are being merged and offered out to private companies. I try to focus on hope and positive change.

I have learnt from TTT (and the wider Transition Network) that a lot of lifestyle change is needed by a lot of people to reverse climate change. I also learnt that we can’t wait for governments to initiate the changes needed and we can just start changing where we live instead (and still keep making noise about what the government could/should be doing to help).  The longest running and farthest reaching TTT projects are Tooting Community Garden and the yearly Foodival – inspiring homegrown veg and educating about food miles and how diet can help reduce carbon footprint. It’s a space that gets used for workshops as much as we can – notably the Community Action for Refugees and Asylum Seekers (CARAS) women’s garden sessions, a great way to learn what can be grown locally and how to be more successful as well as just being a spot to grow stuff if you have no garden.


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