WeNo Insiders Guide To…B’s Balloons!

 

Intro­du­cing B’s Bal­loons, West Norwood’s very own bal­loon and party sup­pli­ers, nestled on the corner of Bloom Grove oppos­ite the cemetery. Our intrep­id FEAST report­er stepped through the cheery bright-pink door to talk bal­loons with owner Bev and busi­ness part­ner Julie.

The first ques­tion had to be: “How did you get into this line of busi­ness?” Bev explains how she star­ted by dec­or­at­ing fam­ily parties, mak­ing a room look good by adding flor­al centrepieces, dress­ing the tables, and pos­i­tion­ing shaped bal­loons. She can still recall her very first centrepiece con­sist­ing of a candle hold­er, flor­istry rib­bon, gyp and a rose. In 2003 she com­pleted a wed­ding dec­or­at­ing course and took a begin­ners course with NABAS (the Nation­al Asso­ci­ation of Bal­loon Artists and Sup­pli­ers).

After the intro­duc­tion to bal­loon work, she began using heli­um for dis­plays, and it has gone from there, with Bev work­ing for a shop in Ful­ham in 2008, doing the dec­or­a­tion for cel­eb­ra­tions, and run­ning her own busi­ness from home and in Croydon’s Sur­rey Street mar­ket. In 2010 Bev finally obtained the cur­rent premises. Being on the corner, the shop boasts two dis­play win­dows – one of which Bev con­stantly redresses to show­case bal­loon cre­ations. Bev smiles… pass­ersby have been known to come in to com­pli­ment an arrange­ment or sug­gest it’s time for a new one! She remem­bers dis­play­ing a cum­ber­some Union Jack flag made of bal­loons for the Queen’s Jubilee.

It became clear as the con­ver­sa­tion progressed that there is a whole spe­cial­ist world of bal­loon artistry that most of us don’t know about. Julie men­tioned she has been twice to the Inter­na­tion­al Bal­loon Artistry Con­ven­tion, trav­el­ling to Chica­go and Bel­gi­um to join the annu­al show­case of bal­loon sculp­tures. At the Bel­gian con­fer­ence, she cre­ated an Egyp­tian Eye of Horus in a com­pet­i­tion. Appar­ently the Japan­ese are known for cre­at­ing bal­loon dresses… Julie swiv­elled the com­puter screen to show our intrigued report­er – you have to Google it! Bev com­ments “Julie excels at twist­ing” and they flipped open an industry magazine, Bal­loon Images, to demon­strate the type of cre­ations demand­ing twist­ing. Bev has also made fantasy flowers just out of bal­loon latex. The day-to-day run­ning of the busi­ness keeps Bev busy for long hours… par­tic­u­larly when they are dec­or­at­ing for a func­tion – so much so that the next mod­ule of her Cer­ti­fied Bal­loon Artistry course is on the back burn­er, but Julie has com­pleted the extens­ive train­ing. 

So, what has been the most mem­or­able order? Bev pauses… 2,000 bal­loons for a film set about three years ago. The shoot was in Dul­wich so she hired a van to deliv­er the bal­loons. It took six hours for two of them to hand-tie each bal­loon with a rib­bon! Bev has also provided dec­or­a­tions to Stella McCart­ney… she thought it was a prank call until she was given the address. Gen­er­ally, the most com­mon, large, spe­cial occa­sion orders are for arches or columns of bal­loons.

Aside from bal­loons, the shop sells the other items you might need for a cel­eb­ra­tion. You can order per­son­al­ised ban­ners, and buy cards, children’s birth­day party ware, con­fetti, and party blowers. Bev offers children’s birth­day pack­ages that can be themed, includ­ing cake, favours, cups and plates. The shop also has a license to sell fire­works, which are kept under lock and key. These are pop­u­lar four times a year: Diwali, bon­fire night, Christ­mas and New Year.

The most enjoy­able part of the job? For Bev it is still the sat­is­fac­tion of trans­form­ing a room for someone’s wed­ding or a christen­ing. This is the event-dec­or­at­ing part of the busi­nessdress­ing a whole room with flowers, chair cov­ers, table linen and crock­ery. They do on aver­age three christen­ings a month plus wed­dings, which are more sea­son­al. In addi­tion, the prox­im­ity to the cemetery isn’t that incon­gru­ent because Bev and Julie dec­or­ate for funer­als too. The func­tions can make for a long day. For a Sat­urday event they can be up into the early hours pre­par­ing. Bev com­ments the most recent wed­ding was in Croy­don on a Sunday, and they star­ted at 9.30 by dress­ing the Church with flowers and deliv­er­ing the bridal arrange­ments. Unusu­ally they had to cover all the chairs because the pews had been removed for refur­bish­ment. Next they dec­or­ated the recep­tion venue con­sist­ing of 14 tables and a head table. The work day las­ted until 11.30pm when all the guests had gone and they could pack down.

Through­out the inter­view there was a steady trickle of cus­tom­ers: a woman need­ing large foil “9” and “0” bal­loons for her mum’s 90th, which she was going to drive inflated to Corn­wall; a young dad look­ing for a 1st birth­day bal­loon; phone calls about func­tions; and someone col­lect­ing 20 heli­um bal­loons.

Bev com­ments how the qual­ity of the bal­loon latex is import­ant – it’s cheap online and the bal­loons don’t last, which can ruin an event. “You learn some tricks from years of exper­i­ence”, Julie divulges. “In hot weath­er, don’t inflate to the full, as the bal­loons expand out­side in the heat – they will all pop if you don’t know that!” There’s dis­ap­point­ing news for some of us… inhal­ing heli­um to enter­tain your friends with a squeaky car­toon voice is bad for you – if you take too big a breath, it deprives the brain of oxy­gen… now you know!

 

So any future plans for B’s Bal­loons? Bev responds without miss­ing a beat – hope­fully more cor­por­ate events and big­ger premises to work in so they can cre­ate grander dis­plays.

 

B’s Bal­loons

388 Nor­wood Road

SE27 9AA

 

Mon–Fri 10 to 5.30pm (closed Wed­nes­day) and Sat 9 to 6pm

 

www.bevsballoons.com

WeNo insiders guide to…The Clockworks

In Net­tle­fold Place near Cenci Vin­tage, fea­tured pre­vi­ously in this blog, there is an unas­sum­ing door marked num­ber 6 and signed The Clock­works. The con­ver­ted Vic­tori­an indus­tri­al build­ing, with on-trend grey paint­work, could be mis­taken for the offices of an architect’s prac­tice or media com­pany. Instead, behind the entrance door there lies a nation­ally unique clock col­lec­tion and a state-of-the-art clock and watch repair work­shop. Vis­it­ors and cus­tom­ers are wel­come by appoint­ment.

Enter­ing by buzzer, our Intrep­id FEAST report­er walked into a metic­u­lously designed open-plan interi­or. It’s a large, atmo­spher­ic space, care­fully zoned to reflect the dif­fer­ent func­tions of the organ­isa­tion: museum col­lec­tion, lib­rary, work­shop and char­ity. The clocks, dat­ing from 1840, are an imme­di­ate visu­al pull and it’s hard not to be mes­mer­ised by the rhythmic tick­ing and click­ing of the timepieces. Behind a raised counter, in the corner, is the work­shop domain of the freel­ance con­ser­vat­ors. This area con­tains the paraphernalia of clock and watch repair­ing: a metal and wood lathe, braz­ing hearth for sol­dier­ing, milling machine with 5 microns accur­acy (1000th of a mm!), a parts clean­ing zone and a cent­ral desk with the most recent repair pro­ject care­fully laid out.

So how has this incred­ible col­lec­tion ended up in West Nor­wood? Well, The Clock­works are the brainchild of Dr James Nye and reflect a lifelong pas­sion for horo­logy (and with­in that field, the even more niche area of elec­tric clocks). James’s interest developed as a school­boy when he was given respons­ib­il­ity for look­ing after his school’s clock sys­tem. He explains: “Elec­tric clocks enable the dis­tri­bu­tion of time at a dis­tance, allow­ing you to have the same time in dif­fer­ent places. They tend to be insti­tu­tion­al.” James first began col­lect­ing clocks in the late 1970s. By the time he moved to West Nor­wood with his wife and chil­dren, he needed to cre­ate a pur­pose-built space to accom­mod­ate what had become a sub­stan­tial per­son­al col­lec­tion. Ini­tially he refur­bished a derel­ict house in Chest­nut Road in 2001, cre­at­ing a fam­ily home with a large por­tion of the ground floor hived off for the clocks. Vis­it­ors accessed the col­lec­tion via the family’s front door. Even with this arrange­ment, a large pro­por­tion of the clocks had to be kept in stor­age. Back then, when a private col­lect­or died, their col­lec­tion was invari­ably sold off and dis­persed. Aware of this, James har­boured the ambi­tion to cre­ate a ded­ic­ated premises open to the pub­lic. It was on the back­burn­er for a long time. But in 2012 he stumbled across the oppor­tun­ity he was look­ing for via a neigh­bour who worked in prop­erty devel­op­ment. He was able to buy the ground floor of the cur­rent premises in Net­tle­fold Place. At that time, it was a shell being redeveloped into flats and it became a labour of love to trans­form it into The Clock­works. The low point? “Wait­ing 7 months to get a gas con­nec­tion.”

As James needed staff to main­tain the clocks, it was logic­al to con­struct a work­shop area. This also met a need in the horo­logy com­munity. Tal­en­ted gradu­ates were emer­ging from con­ser­va­tion courses with amaz­ing skills, but they were strug­gling to estab­lish a work­shop due to a lack of cap­it­al. James had the idea of offer­ing bench space on a freel­ance basis with an agree­ment to work some days on the col­lec­tion. It is how he was intro­duced to Johan ten Hoeve, a second gen­er­a­tion Dutch clock­maker. Johan had recently fin­ished train­ing at West Dean Col­lege with the accol­ade of a renowned horo­logy pro­ject under his belt. (He had cre­ated a rep­lica of a 1676 clock made for the Royal Obser­vat­ory, Green­wich, that had been installed in the space built for the ori­gin­al.) Johan became involved in the devel­op­ment of the Clock­works and is now Con­ser­vat­or-in-Res­id­ence. This brought James on to one of the high­point of The Clock­works to date… In 2014, Johan was approached by the Kun­oz­an-Toshogu Shrine in Japan to con­serve a 16th-cen­tury clock that had been gif­ted to the Sho­gun in 1611 by the Vice­roy of New Spain. Johan spent an ini­tial 8-day trip in an office at the shrine, work­ing at a big desk with a Japan­ese flag behind it, with the con­stant com­pany of his hosts, where he cleaned the ori­gin­al clock, took pho­tos and made draw­ings. The shrine author­it­ies had bought everything they could from his tool kit shop­ping list. Next, Johan cre­ated a work­ing rep­lica of the intern­al move­ment so it could be dis­played by the clock for vis­it­ors to see. This part of the pro­ject was done in West Nor­wood and was finally com­pleted in Septem­ber 2015. Johan flew back to Japan with his rep­lica to attend the huge pub­li­city launch. So, a high prestige pro­ject in the world of clocks and it took place in West Nor­wood!

Given its quiet pro­file loc­ally, it’s easy to assume nobody knows about the col­lec­tion, but one look at the vis­it­ors’ book reveals a steady stream of guests – not all niche elec­tric clock enthu­si­asts. James estim­ates they have about 1000 vis­it­ors a year, mostly as tour groups, who are treated to an informed guided tour of the col­lec­tion. Secret Lon­don Walks have made about 8 sep­ar­ate vis­its because the trip is so over sub­scribed. Then there has been friends of the V&A, Nation­al Trust mem­ber­ship tours, and the Lon­don Explorers Group to name but a few. Of course there are clock afi­cion­ados, includ­ing spe­cial­ists from over­seas. Smiths of Derby, clock­makers since 1856, have made staff trips – pre­sum­ably thrilled to see the his­tor­ic Smiths clocks on dis­play. And local fam­il­ies with older chil­dren have vis­ited dur­ing the school hol­i­days. Since 2014, the Clock­works have also been tak­ing part in the annu­al Lon­don Open House, nor­mally open­ing on the same day as the cemetery and South Lon­don Theatre. If you are a film buff, watch out for screen­ings in the space dur­ing the Free Film Fest­iv­al.

More recently, The Clock­works gained high­er pro­file in the area when James was involved in the £35,000 fun­drais­ing cam­paign to repair St Luke’s tower clock. James com­ments: “It is a nation­ally sig­ni­fic­ant clock made in 1827 by the fam­ous clock­maker Ben­jamin Lewis Vul­li­amy” (who at the time was clock­maker to George IV). The clock hadn’t been work­ing for about 10 years, per­man­ently stuck at 12 o’clock. In May 2016, with the money raised, the clock was restored by the Cum­bria Clock Com­pany. So now the people of West Nor­wood have no excuse for being late!

And how about the work­shop? Well, it is busy, with more work than they can ful­fil. Many cus­tom­ers are local people, often private indi­vidu­als with heir­loom clocks, mainly mech­an­ic­al, that have ceased to work. The con­ser­vat­ors devel­op their own cli­en­tele based on their expert­ise. Johan, not sur­pris­ingly, spe­cial­ises in clocks and often does site vis­its. They tend to gen­er­ate busi­ness word of mouth. Our report­er talked to James Har­ris, who spe­cial­ises in watches. He gradu­ated from Birm­ing­ham City Uni­ver­sity with a BA in horo­logy and has worked for Omega. A lot of the watches James Har­ris repairs are vin­tage; some are antique. He explains: “Vin­tage watches are very fash­ion­able at present – you can get a brand such as Omega for a few hun­dred rather than the new price which can be £1000.”

Then it was time for the tour of the col­lec­tion given by con­ser­vat­or James Har­ris – and it was truly fas­cin­at­ing. It was hard not to appre­ci­ate the engin­eer­ing or be dazzled by the ideas behind meas­ur­ing time and dis­trib­ut­ing time in factor­ies, on ships, to the top of church towers.

What a treas­ure nest­ling in West Nor­wood! It’s well worth book­ing a visit, and if you have an old clock or watch to repair, there is a team of incred­ible experts on your door­step.

 

 

 

The Clock­works

6 Net­tle­fold Place,

Lon­don SE27 OJW

Tel 020 86764856 

http://theclockworks.org