Category Archives: WeNo blog

WeNo Insider’s Guide to…Wear Abouts!

 

Introducing Wear Abouts, a family business selling children’s fashion and school wear in West Norwood’s high street. The owner Bashir and his son Yusuf warmly greeted our intrepid FEAST reporter and offered a tour of the premises. Towards the back of the shop, you can see an open stockroom with shelves to the ceiling stacked high with clothing and shoeboxes. Out of sight, beyond this, it’s like stepping into the TARDIS – there’s an area consisting of a tall room crammed full of carefully labelled items, a small kitchen and, overhead, more storage space. Bashir explains this used to be the yard but as the business grew he converted it, digging out the rubble over a year, because it wasn’t possible to use heavy machinery.

So how did Bashir come into this line of business? Simply, he was compelled by the need to earn a living. Back then he was a newly married man with children on the way. His brother was already running a children’s clothes shop in Sydenham (this has since been sold and still trades, but is not linked). He smiles broadly – West Norwood looked busy and didn’t have a children’s clothing shop. So he took on the current premises in August 1993, initially selling fashion wear for children aged 0 to 14. Bashir remembers his dad giving some sound advice that he has grown to appreciate as the years have passed – “Price your stock as if you are competing with three others locally. Then, if you do get competition later, you will be lean enough to withstand it.”

The late 1990s was a pivotal moment for the business. Elm Wood primary approached Wear Abouts to see if they could produce sweatshirts bearing the school logo. Eventually they were appointed the official uniform supplier. Kingswood primary was next, then St Julians. Fast forward to today – Wear Abouts supplies the uniform for an awe-inspiring 25 schools. This includes a school in Southend and one in Nigeria! Bashir and family have so much expertise as a uniform supplier, they are sometimes involved in uniform design. Although Yusuf points out: that does involve politely steering the school away from over ambitious ideas, such as introducing polo T-shirts with ties!

If you were to stroll past the shop at the end of August, you would see what has become a feature in the life cycle of the high street: a long queue of parents on the pavement clutching uniform lists, with children of various ages in tow. Bashir laughs, these days they are well rehearsed at managing the back-to-school rush.

At the end of July they overhaul the shop interior, starting with a Mad Sale to clear the fashion wear and the remaining stock is neatly stored away to make room for school wear. This transformation takes about a week and a half, with the shop remaining open throughout. Bashir hires a team of up to 15 staff for the last two weeks of August – often friends and family members are drafted in. With all hands on deck, staff are given dedicated roles to keep down customer waiting times. There are ‘folders’ who solely package up the purchases and shop assistants are assigned per customer to give one-to-one advice. Customers are actually invited to stand in the till queue as soon as they enter the shop. By the time they are near the front, the aim is to have sourced all the items on their list. If need be, Bashir’s wife Munira will sew the school badge on a newly purchased blazer. There is also a door man, jokingly referred to as ‘the bouncer’, monitoring the crowd to prevent total mayhem breaking out (any parent reading this will appreciate what a bun fight uniform buying can become). In fact, Bashir recalls and grins, in the chaos one year a woman left behind her baby!

Come the first week of October, when all the uniform sales have died down, they transform the shop back to showcasing fashion wear (the uniform is folded away and kept in stock). Its clearly a mammoth task, like running two shops in one space. It dawned on our FEAST reporter that this sometimes coincides with family fasting for Ramadan – making the effort all the more Herculean.

Moving on to the fashion wear… There is an impressive range of affordable special occasion clothing, including smart suits and dresses for weddings, christenings, and church going. Surprisingly, there’s also a big selection of Kickers shoes, one of the shop’s most popular items. And Wear Abouts have provided work clothing to other West Norwood businesses – for example, polo T-shirts with a shop logo for the Baron Polish Deli.

Any highs and lows over the years? Bashir recalls the time when they were asked to sort out a new uniform for two affiliated schools in the last week of July. Even with such short notice, they managed to kit out each school in time for the start of the academic year. Bashir smiles, they received a large bunch of flowers in appreciation. The lows – definitely the nightmare of stock becoming unsellable. With a uniform change, in one fell swoop their stock is out of date. No parent in their right mind wants uniform that is being phased out. It’s a big loss of money for the shop. In that situation, Bashir has loaded up a van and donated the whole lot to the Disaster Emergency Committee.

So what does the future hold for Wear Abouts? They’ve recently renovated the shop and they are working to create a website offering mail order – a big task. Yusuf rolls his eyes and laughs… he has started photographing the uniform items and they will trial with a few schools first to get the system running smoothly. Given they sell about 10 styles and fit of school trousers (slim fit, sturdy fit, elasticated waist, to name but a few), you can imagine how time consuming it will be to catalogue each uniform item. Bashir adds that they are firmly committed to West Norwood and feel part of the community.

 

And what do Wear Abouts pride themselves on? The answer comes as no surprise, given the way Bashir and Yusuf had serviced customers’ requests during the interview. But Bashir was reticent. “Well we are chatty and friendly people and I suppose that feeds into our customer service”. You only have to read the Google Reviews (overall rating 5 stars) for confirmation. And Wear Abouts have been serving West Norwood for many years, so some customers who remember trying on uniform in the shop are now bringing in their children. Bashir says they also like to give good advice. “Customers are a bit surprised when I’ve said a shoe that their child is in love with and is insisting is comfortable, just isn’t big enough – even if I haven’t got the next size in. I want customers to be satisfied.”

Which is exactly why FEAST loves shopping local…

Wear Abouts

358 Norwood Rd

SE27 9AA

Mon–Sat 9.30am to 5pm

 

 

 

WeNo Guide to…Hobby’s!

It’s Spring and FEAST is back! And so our intrepid reporter set off once more to explore the streets of West Norwood, meeting local traders.

Presenting Hobby’s, a family business for model makers and hobbyists since the 1950s. Stray behind Knight’s Hill into the quiet streets of the industrial area to find their large warehouse – the location of Hobby’s retail and wholesale since the 1970s. Following the sign to the shop entrance reveals a bygone era showroom with a hotchpotch of doll’s houses, matchstick models and power tools for model making. This belies the fact that beyond the counter and out of view of the customer, lies a comprehensive selection of model making and hobby stock. Behind the scenes, there is a 15-strong team busy servicing the mail-order side of the business, sending out goods nationwide and internationally. So if you have popped into the showroom to browse, make sure you look at the annual catalogue. Ask, and a member of staff will source what you choose from the warehouse. To give you an indication of the shelves and shelves of items nestling in West Norwood, the 2017 catalogue boasts 324 pages, ranging from model planes, boats, railways, crafts such as glass engraving and candle making, and a large section on the fittings to create a doll’s house – everything the dedicated model enthusiast could desire. But also lurking amongst the specialist model making goods, there are items for the gift hunter or budding hobbyist – wooden self-assembly kits, remote-controlled toys and 3D puzzles to name just a few.

The origins of the business go back to the glory days of hobbying. Owner Mike Crossland explains how his father WF Crossland, who was station master at Tulse Hill, was persuaded by a Swiss relative to sell 50 musical movements (for the uninitiated, these are the musical parts that can be used in toys, boxes, clocks and models). He first placed an ad in Practical Householder, the business took off and eventually he opened a shop at 202 Tulse Hill. When his father retired from the railways, he took new premises at 109 Norwood High Street trading under the name of Swisscross, playing on the Swiss connection and family name.

Eventually they expanded to 62 Norwood High Street and changed the name to Hobby’s to reflect the widening of their stock. Mike comments that those early days of the business were an era when people made things in their leisure time, pre-digital revolution if you can recall or imagine life then. Now, he says sadly, some of the model making high street shops Hobby’s supply are closing – a sign of the times. Mike expands: “People also made things because they couldn’t afford them”. Nowadays, model making is a niche market catering for a distinct community. It’s a labour of love to create and decorate a doll’s house – you don’t do it because you can’t afford one. Indeed, the components available for the larger scale doll’s houses have become more sophisticated, with designer wall papers and carpets, and even electric light fittings!

So, who are Mike’s customers in the here and now? Not surprisingly, many are older generation. A lot of regulars have worked with their hands all their lives and now they have retired, immersing themselves in a making project. Then Mike smiles sheepishly, there are quite a few living courtesy of Her Majesty, either buying direct or via the prison shop! A fact confirmed by a heartfelt “thank you” from a former prisoner on their FB page. And what are their most popular items currently? Well, the biggest seller is matchstick kits, where you stick matches onto card templates to make a model. In fact, Hobby’s create and package the kits themselves; sometimes using the design suggestions of their model making regulars. Galleons are very popular – model ships such as the Cutty Sark. And musical movements still feature in the catalogue as a throwback to the company’s origins. There are some sweet self-assembly wooden music boxes for children. Mikes smiles – in the 1970s, they used to supply musical movements for ice-cream vans.

So how about tech… the digital market? Mike comments that they don’t stray too much into tech as you need to service enquires when a customer gets stuck. Also, it’s a highly competitive market. He is content – they have expertise in physical model making and have the know-how to support their customers, but they are on a continual quest for new stock. Mike has been a regular at Nuremberg Toy Fair, staying at the same hotel over a 20-year period. Now, his son goes to what is the biggest toy fair in the world. Fairs provide a great opportunity to meet suppliers and search for latest toys. Mike remembers with satisfaction stumbling over 3D foam jigsaw puzzles at an American toy fair. It was a totally new concept at the time and he promptly bought £8000 of stock from the small Canadian supplier, sold it all and ordered another 11x 40ft containers worth. Eventually, Hasbro broke up the party by taking over the supplier!And then it was time to leave Mike behind the shop counter. Our reporter left musing over a quote from the catalogue: “Happy is the person with a hobby for they have two worlds to live in“.

Hobby’s Ltd

2 Knight’s Hill Square

SE27 0HH

Mon-Fri 9 to 5pm and Sat 9 to 1pm

www.hobby.uk.com – online catalogue

West Norwood Foto – the winning photographs!

Our thanks to all contributors

Thank you to everyone who sent in entries to West Norwood Foto. One hundred and thirty eight photographs were submitted. And some more have just arrived! Our judges viewed the online gallery to make their decisions based on relationship to theme and composition. Age wasn’t taken into account and some of our winners/special mentions are under 16. The youngest entrant was 7 years old.

After careful consideration, our judges have made the following selections;

Category: Street Scenes

Category Winner and Overall Winner

Catriona Gilchrist, Dog outside Ladbrokes

catrionagilchrist

“An interesting and melancholic photo, with almost surreal elements to it. It also makes a social commentary.It touches upon the concept of street photography, which is seeing, and putting together elements as disparate as a dog, a broken pole, and a gambling den to create a visual message to goes out to the viewer and offers itself to multiple interpretations”

– Street Scenes category judge, Pierre Alozie.

“A classic documentary photograph in the sense that it captures something both fleeting (doggie) and unmoving (architecture).  It also allows the viewer to ponder on the folly of gambling!”

– Fantastic & Strange category judge, Hermione Wiltshire

Street Scenes: Runner Up

Ciaran Bradbury-Hickey 

ciaranbradburyhickey

“It is the dynamic composition of this photograph that attracted me to it. It seems to embody the essential components of street photography (spontaneity, composition and wit among others), and best interpreted the street theme of the competition.”

– Street Scenes category judge, Pierre Alozie.

Special Mention

Janet Haney for mobility scooters and John Nott for St Lukes Church. Janet’s photo is full of humour and could have been second, and John’s photo is technically sound, although it is the kind of photograph seen in many photography magazines.

Category: Community

“It was a very difficult balance between choosing a great looking photo and one that really said community – some of the images that were visually strong didn’t really say community to me. Also, as it is community there were often pictures with lots of people and lots going on in them, which sometimes made for an images with no obvious focal point. There were some strong images though and it was a hard choice”

– Community category judge, Anna Hindocha.

Winner

Jenny Ochera, Tug of War

jennyochera

“It was a very tough choice but I kept coming back to this image. I love the fact that it is a proper community effort – literally everyone pulling together. A great interpretation of the theme. I love the strong diagonal which means that the image works despite the number of people in it as the eye is guided through it. This, combined with the people’s positions which show the effort they are putting into pulling, also adds dynamism and excitement. While the strong sunlight does in some ways make the image less “perfect” I find the texture of the road, the strong shadows, the purple lens flare and the burnt out sky all make for a visually compelling image. Overall, I felt this image had a balance of saying the most about community while also being very visually interesting”

– Community category judge, Anna Hindocha.

Community: Runner Up

John D Haney, Cemetery Tour

johnhaney 

“Thematically I really like the idea that the Friends of West Norwood Cemetery are keeping the dead involved and part of the community by their events. Visually, I love the pose of the speaker and the composition of the thin band of people surrounded by the greenery.”

– Community category judge, Anna Hindocha.

 

 

Category: Fantastic and Strange

Winner

Seb Hilditch, Angel of Norwood

sebhilditch

“The Black & White takes out realistic greens of lichen, blues of sky and greys of stone making the photograph become more of an imagined picture and less of a documentary shot.  The composition is poised and gives the impression of a graceful portrait of a real woman dressed up as an angel not unlike an old Victorian photograph by for instance Julia Margaret Cameron”

– Fantastic & Strange category judge, Hermione Wiltshire

Fantastic & Strange: Runner up

Kes Young, child and plant 

kesyoung

“This picture bravely places an unusually slight moment at the centre of the picture there by taking the viewer’s attention to a sight easily overlooked.  A child’s encounter with spiky plants suggests a schism between the internal place suggested by their expression and a spectacular plant perhaps not native to West Norwood.”

– Fantastic & Strange category judge, Hermione Wiltshire

Special mention

Freddie Witchell for a compelling portrait of a stone face.  The effect drew the judges attention for a long time.  For his next pictures, Hermione would recommend working on composition.

Feast volunteers’ vote!

This went to Hetty Lalleman’s charming photo A Tight Knit. The photo was taken at Feast on the Tea & Talk Table, a space where people can sit and have a free cup of tea and a chat. It embodies all that is lovely about Feast!

hettylalleman_feasthands_community

Our thanks to our local business sponsors for providing the prizes

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