Category Archives: We No

WeNo Insiders Guide To…Emmaus Lambeth!

Winter rain and cold; but the FEAST team has regrouped to pre­pare for the year ahead. And so our intrep­id report­er is back pound­ing the streets of West Nor­wood to meet more local traders.

Present­ing; Emmaus Lam­beth, a home­less­ness char­ity with a cluster of shops along Knights Hill selling a vari­ety of second hand goods. Its not hard to notice Emmaus vans, with their bright green sides and white logo, bust­ling around the area. But how the char­ity works is maybe less famil­i­ar. Our report­er headed to a large res­id­en­tial build­ing, known as Bobby Vin­cent House, to meet Glen Ferns, formerly liv­ing there and now Fun­drais­ing and Com­mu­nic­a­tions Officer. This is the beat­ing heart of the Emmaus Lam­beth com­munity. Seated on a sofa in the lounge with the waft of cook­ing from the kit­chen, Glen explained the unique ethos behind Emmaus. They tackle home­less­ness by provid­ing a home and mean­ing­ful work for people who have been home­less. Its the work bit that’s cru­cial; that giv­ing someone a pur­pose is vital if they are to avoid end­ing up back on the streets.

There are cur­rently 29 Emmaus com­munit­ies in the UK, but each com­munity oper­ates inde­pend­ently. And the goal of a com­munity? To become self suf­fi­cient and sup­port itself with rev­en­ue gen­er­ated by its busi­nesses. Emmaus Lam­beth does this by selling donated goods. In 2005 it opened two shops, num­ber 9 and 11 Knights Hill. Then two years later Bobby Vin­cent House was pur­pose built along with the fur­niture out­let on the site of an old tram­shed. The house has 27 ensuite rooms and is usu­ally full, with a wait­ing list. There is even a spill over room, where in an emer­gency they can offer someone shel­ter. Its a bit like a cor­ridor space but as Glen points out; it is warm and safe and bet­ter than being on the street. In return for a bed and food, res­id­ents, who are known as com­pan­ions, help run the local social enter­prise. This involves col­lect­ing unwanted fur­niture, white goods and bric a brac, pre­par­ing items for resale and serving cus­tom­ers.

Glen turned to his own per­son­al his­tory to give an example of how life chan­ging the work of the char­ity is “I was born in Dover, Kent and by the time I was 24 I had been in pris­on a few times”. He explains he had got in with the wrong crowd, his rela­tion­ship with his par­ents had broken down. He even­tu­ally ended up rough sleep­ing in Brighton, before find­ing a night shel­ter. YMCA Brighton man­aged to get a refer­ral to Emmaus.  By this stage of the inter­view the smells from the kit­chen were becom­ing mouth water­ing and com­pan­ions were gath­er­ing for their lunch break. Glen con­tin­ues ” The day I moved in I knew I had a choice — make the most of it or go back to pris­on”. He spent five years liv­ing as a com­pan­ion in Bobby Vin­cent House in return for help­ing in the shops and on the vans. Emmaus arranged for him to do a fun­drais­ing intern­ship with anoth­er char­ity. Fast for­ward to today. Glen lives in Cam­ber­well and is part of the Emmaus Lam­beth staff team work­ing full time in his role. In this capa­city he often gives talks about his own jour­ney.

It was time to leave the warmth of the lounge for a whistle stop tour. On the way to the nearby fur­niture ware­house (aka out­let), there was one of the all so famil­i­ar vans. Five vans col­lect fur­niture from across South East Lon­don and Sur­rey (Emmaus Lam­beth is respons­ible for Sur­rey out­lets too). Glen men­tions on aver­age the vans go out to four jobs in the morn­ing and three in the after­noon. So what kind of items do Emmaus accept? Well the whole range really. Num­ber 9 Knights Hill focuses on elec­tric­al goods (microwaves, lights, wash­ing machines, com­puter mon­it­ors). And num­ber 11 con­cen­trates on preloved clothes (and is cur­rently dis­play­ing a fine col­lec­tion of stilet­tos in the win­dow). Then there is the corner shop next to Maddison's, nick­named “lofty” (because it used to be a loft con­ver­sion busi­ness). This has great win­dow front­age to show­case their high­er end home­wares. And if it’s gen­er­al bric a brac you are after, then head to the fur­niture out­let for a rum­mage in the ground floor space. Prob­ably unbe­known to most of us West Nor­wood folk, there is also a Brix­ton premises. This opened in 2013 on the Angel town estate and is where they provides fur­niture to fam­il­ies in crisis via Lam­beth Council’s Emer­gency Sup­port Scheme.

And what state do dona­tions have to be in? Well donated items have to be in reas­on­able con­di­tion with a fire label where rel­ev­ant and white goods work­able — but they do do minor repairs, steam clean uphol­stery or wash cov­ers. Some­times they go to a house clear­ance. This can throw up some unusu­al dona­tions; the oddest being a mor­tu­ary table equipped with drain­age hole! The big tick­et items, which gen­er­ate an income to sup­port their work, are the sofas and fridge freez­ers. And you can book one of the vans to take large goods away for free.

It was nearly time to meet James Hayes, CEO. Back in the res­id­en­tial build­ing, the entrance way has a large slightly incon­gru­ous black and white poster of a man in a beret. Glen com­ments “That’s our founder, Abbé Pierre. He set up the first Emmaus com­munity in France”. Abbé Pierre it tran­spires was a former res­ist­ance fight­er, MP and French priest, which explains the bib­lic­al name, Emmaus (although the organ­isa­tion is non reli­gious). And on the Emmaus web­site, it recounts the inspir­ing ori­gins of the move­ment; how Abbé Pierre was work­ing to relieve des­ti­tu­tion in post war Paris when he was intro­duced to a home­less man, named Georges, who had tried to com­mit sui­cide.

So on to meet­ing James. James’s office is on an upper floor of the res­id­en­tial build­ing. James joined Emmaus in 2009 with a back­ground in retail bank­ing. He had heard about Emmaus from volun­teer­ing with Crisis. His pas­sion for Emmaus is infec­tious. “The peer sup­port is incred­ible; the com­pan­ions really look after one anoth­er”. He men­tions how the organ­isa­tion encour­ages an aware­ness that there is always someone worse off than you. If you read the life stor­ies on the Emmaus web­site — then that is a truly hum­bling state­ment. James proudly points out that com­pan­ions often do addi­tion­al volun­teer­ing. Over Christ­mas 2017 seven com­pan­ions volun­teered at Crisis. The com­munity also piloted a new scheme open­ing a tem­por­ary night shel­ter in their own premises from Decem­ber 30th to Jan 9th. James com­ments how caring the com­pan­ions were; organ­ising bed­ding and mak­ing food for 10 rough sleep­ers. It was so suc­cess­ful they plan to do it again this year. James also brings up the topic of mean­ing­ful work. “Work is the second ques­tion people ask about, after your name, on first meet­ing you”. He expands, say­ing that by giv­ing com­pan­ions the oppor­tun­ity to build their skills, they gain dig­nity and self respect which helps them recon­nect with fam­ily or build new rela­tion­ships. This is fun­da­ment­al. He muses “Many people end up at Emmaus because they don’t have a sup­port net­work”. He believes every­one has a back­ground in some­thing; has skills they can offer. Part of a companion’s stay often involves train­ing — they’ve had people do account­ancy, build­ing courses. He laughs, and adds “Even learn­ing to horse ride; any­thing that pro­motes self con­fid­ence”. And the highs of the his job? Without doubt, when a com­pan­ion secures employ­ment, even bet­ter when its with Emmaus. The lows? He hes­it­ates. Some clearly not to be men­tioned. “Its hard when a com­pan­ion moves on because it doesn’t work out — but the door is always open”.

So how is the busi­ness side of things going? Well dona­tions are steady. James revealed they are gen­er­at­ing an income of £70,000 a month from their shops. Which seems quite incred­ible — the stock is reas­on­ably priced so there must be a big turnover of goods. Any plans for the future? Well indeed there are and they are mighty excit­ing. James explains that com­pan­ions who do get a paid job often can’t find afford­able accom­mod­a­tion. An archi­tect is look­ing at ways to ration­al­ise their premises so they can cre­ate three move on units. These units would enable com­pan­ions to live for up to two years at a reas­on­able rent whilst get­ting estab­lished.

And on that optim­ist­ic note, our report­er left, pon­der­ing how amaz­ing it was that second hand goods sup­port such work.

Emmaus Lam­beth

Fur­niture Out­let and Boutique
9 Bead­man Street
Mon-Sat 9.30–5pm
FEAST Sunday from 11am

Elec­tric­al goods/Clothing and Home­wares
9–11 Knights Hill and 88 Knights Hill
Mon-Sat 9.30–5pm
FEAST Sunday from 11am

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

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