‘It’s what makes this feel like home’
Jude Wacks is a photographer from Willesden Green. This year she was awarded funding from the Brent 2020 Culture Fund to document shops in the borough that have been passed from one generation to another. In a borough which is always changing, these shops are one of the few things that doesn’t.
What kind of shops are you looking for?
My inspiration came from where we live. We’re about half way between Willesden Green and Dollis Hill tube stations. There’s a fantastic greengrocer called John who’s a lovely guy. He’s saved many a meal in our household. Often I’ll think ‘Oh my god, I need an onion!’ and the kids run up the road and get one from John. Guys like John are stalwarts of the community who give a much better level of service than you are ever going to get from a high street shop. I knew that he had taken on the business from his father who had started working on a greengrocers stall that still exists outside the Post Office in Cricklewood, which has been there for 100 years. He tells me he knows everybody’s family on the Dollis Hill estate - these businesses are part of the very fabric of the community. So when I started thinking about how I could interpret what Brent means - I thought about John. I started to wonder how many other businesses there might be in the borough like his.
How did you go about finding shops?
My initial research was to join all the local Facebook groups and ask if anyone could recommend a family business that has been going for 20 years which has been passed on from one generation to another. The response was amazing. One that’s really lovely is the baker in Willesden. Lots of people in the Facebook group were saying things like, ‘they did my wedding cake in 1948’ and another was saying ‘they did mine in 1964!’ and it’s just really lovely. Things like this show that there’s a legacy here of family businesses, employing and regenerating themselves. Some of them go back a really long way, which I just wasn’t aware of. Someone was telling me the other day about an opticians in Neasden. They were saying, ‘they did my grandma’s eyes, they did my eyes, they did my children’s eyes’. To have that heritage there is so rare these days where you never see the same person twice. That continuity really adds to a sense of stability. It's amazing how many of them there are.
But do you think they will survive?
Someone messaged me the other day and told me about the first Jamaican roti shop in Harlesden - the question is, will it last another generation? For a lot of these businesses that’s a question that looms over them. A lot of people don’t realise that whole families have been involved in these businesses for generations. I think it’s important that people become aware that these businesses are there and that against the odds they have managed to survive and that if we want those businesses we need to support and appreciate them.
How do you want to document the shops?
I think it will be a mixture of portraiture and them at work. I like it candid. I’ll sit in the corner of a shop and I’ll try and capture their natural interaction with customers and find out how important that establishment is to those customers and what keeps them coming back. I’m looking at how I could use Instagram to bring it to life and tell their story and to give them a way to talk about their businesses and bring it to life. I think people like to tell their stories. There’s a fish and chip shop in Kensal Rise and one of the long-term customers moved back to Jamaica to retire. And now, every visitor he sends over, he sends them to the fish and chip shop. And they phone him up from the fish shop - and they say ‘I'm in the shop, I actually came here!’
Where is the exhibition going to be?
I’m hoping that the establishments themselves will want to host exhibitions and show the photos and maybe some archival material about the shop’s past. That’s still a bit vague and a recent thought - we’ll have to see how that can work but I want it to be exhibited physically, not just on Instagram. I hope they can see that it’s a way for them to connect and bring more people to them.
What is it that is so special about these places?
It’s what makes this feel like home. Maybe it’s because we live in such a fast-paced world. It’s things like this that make you feel a bit grounded. That’s why people follow their hairdressers all over town!