At JC Motors, Haggerston
“I’ve spent my whole working life here in the arches,” Leonard Maloney admitted to me, when Contributing Photographer Sarah Ainslie & I went to visit him at JC Motors in Haggerston which specialises in repair of Volkswagen cars and vans. Len spoke placidly, shook our hands in welcome and made relaxed eye contact when we arrived at his garage, and I was immediately aware how tidy and ordered the place was.
A peaceful atmosphere of mutual respect and concentration prevailed – a white camper van was up in the air undergoing maintenance beneath and the boot of a red sports car was open while repair was undertaken. Len & I sat on two car seats at the rear of the arch to chat while Sarah photographed the motor engineers at work.
JC Motors has been serving customers for eight years from this location and earned a reputation in the neighbourhood for honest pricing and reliability, and many of the mechanics are local people who have joined through placements and schemes. Everything might appear as it should be, yet there is an air of poignancy since Len – in common with the other businesses under the railways arches – is being threatened with a three hundred per cent rent increase by Transport for London who are the landlords.
“Everything is becoming coffee bars around here now,” Len informed me in regret “and it seems our job has become seen as ‘dirty’ and we’re no longer wanted any more now that it’s become posh.”
“My dad had an old Austin Cambridge that he used to repair at weekends and that gave me a taste for this work. I’ve always loved taking things apart and putting them back together, and the smell of diesel oil has been attractive to me for as long as I can remember.
In 1981, I was sent on a day release from Danesford School to Hackney College where I met Barry Carlisle who specialised in repairing minis, and in the evenings I came to work for him in an arch here in Haggerston. Then Joe Chee came long and saw me working on a Volkswagen Camper van and he said, ‘If ever you need a job, come and see me.’
At first when I left school, I went to work for Barry but he had an accident and lost an eye, so then I had to go back to Joe Chee and we began working together in 1982. He was foreman at a Volkswagen garage in St John’s Wood. We made a great team and I learnt a lot from him. We started a body shop off the Kingsland Rd and a shop selling Volkswagen parts. That was fantastic and it carried on until 1999. He did the paperwork and sold the parts and I ran the bodyshop, and we collected lots of customers and took on three apprentices. But eventually Joe Chee got ill and passed away and I couldn’t run the whole business, so I closed the shop and continued with the garage.
I began taking on local young people through the Inspire Hackney scheme and now my son Miles is working with me, he’s twenty-one. Everyone has their job to do and they know where the parts are and I have taught them what to do. Some customers bring their cars in and just tell me to repair whatever needs doing, but I also get single mums who don’t have a lot of money and I can just repair what is necessary to keep the car safe. I’ve had mums bring in their kids in prams and then the kids come back to me to ask advice when the time comes to get their first car.”
The team at J C Motors
Joe Chee is commemorated in the name of the company ‘JC Motors’, followed by Leonard’s initials
Len’s own beetle that he hopes to restore one day
Mr Bramble, Motor Engineer
Mr Singh, Motor Engineer
Hakeem Saunders - “I’ve been here since I was thirteen”
Leonard & his son Miles
Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie
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