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Together We Are Stronger

November 21, 2012
by the gentle author

Click to enlarge Martin Usborne’s photograph

These are the founder members of The East End Trades Guild who gathered at Christ Church, Spitalfields, on Monday night to summon their new organisation into being and speak collectively on behalf of all independent and proprietor-run businesses in the East End.

The church was full and the sense of anticipation immense as trumpets sounded in a fanfare from the gallery, resounding throughout Nicholas Hawksmoor’s masterpiece of English baroque, to announce the arrival of this bold endeavour.

Nevio Pellicci, the East End’s most celebrated host, his dark eyes shining with eagerness and looking flash in a three-piece suit, stepped up to the microphone to welcome everyone by revealing that among the many things the small traders had in common, they could be proud of the fact that none were registered in Luxembourg. He was greeted by a cheer worthy of a rock star.

Then came a slide show of the members’ portraits – the work of the Spitalfields Life Contributing Photographers – projected onto a big screen and accompanied by a ukulele orchestra courtesy of the Duke of Uke. As the sequence accumulated, spontaneous cheers and applause broke out among the audience when favourites came up, with the loudest cheer reserved for Paul Gardner of Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen. The cumulative effect of so many pictures was quite overwhelming, to observe the infinite variety of small businesses in the East End. And in the premiere of Sebastian Sharples’ eloquent film “We are the Beating Heart of the East End” that followed, we saw members in their work places speaking of their hopes for the Guild.

As the opening speaker of the evening, Paul Gardner brought the house down by suggesting to the assembly,“I’m sure most of you are here just for the novelty of seeing me in a suit!” The Founder of the Guild, Paul had been shaking hands with guests as they arrived and now he recounted the history of his family business in Spitalfields commencing with his great-grandfather James, a Scalemaker, in 1870.

Two years ago, an unrealistic rent demand threatened to put Paul out of business yet the public outcry after my story about this – which caused the landlord to reconsider – became the catalyst for the formation of the Guild. Paul spoke candidly of his own sense of vulnerability as a sole trader and of the struggles experienced by his devoted customers who are all small businesses. In speaking of the Guild, Paul described the elation he felt after attending the first meetings this year and many in the audience nodded their heads in recognition, acknowledging the camaraderie which the Guild has already fostered among the traders.

Next, Henry Jones of Jones Brothers’ Dairy and Shanaz Khan of Chaat Bangladeshi Tea House shared the platform. Born above the shop, Henry Jones told how his great grandfather and namesake drove the cattle from Aberystwyth in 1877 to start the dairy in Middlesex St. Surviving two World Wars and the bombings in the City of London, Henry had to reinvent Jones Bros as a wholesale supplier when supermarkets and chainstores took away his domestic business, and he spoke of the need for independents to share information and to speak with the authority of a collective voice.

Shanaz Khan had a slightly different story to tell. Like Henry, she grew up above the family business which in her case was an Indian restaurant. Yet, although she only came to the East End ten years ago, she was equally enthusiastic about the opportunity she has found here, and spoke of her commitment to use local suppliers and employ local people. When Shanaz opened up Chaat away from the curry houses of Brick Lane, it seemed a pioneering move, but the fashionability of Redchurch St in recent years – bringing in luxury brands – has led to a punishing rent increase which is, in effect, a penalty for her hard work and success.

Drawing from these personal experiences, it fell to Shanaz to outline the intentions of the Guild – developing campaigns, giving voice to small businesses, creating a network for the members to share information and trade, offering advice, and building the local economy. Her passionate speech was the heartfelt climax of proceedings, and then it was time for Martin Usborne to climb up his step ladder and take the formal group photo that signified the founding of the Guild.

Afterwards, we quaffed Truman’s Beer accompanied by food from Leila’s Cafe, and cakes by Violet Cakes and Morena Bakery, and beigels from Brick Lane Beigel Bakery, and there was euphoria in the air. As I walked through the excited throng where many traders were meeting each other for the first time,  I could hear snatches of conversation. There was a lively discussion of the issues that need to be addressed, especially rents and council tax, but I also heard them saying, “I could supply you with that,” and “If you need those I’ve got them in stock.” There was a collective dynamic at work in the room as the traders followed their instincts, discovering ways they could help each other and – in that moment – I realised the Guild existed and had its own life.

Event photographs © Simon Mooney

Group photograph © Martin Usborne

Archive photograph courtesy Bishopsgate Institute

17 Responses leave one →
  1. Jeannette permalink
    November 21, 2012

    i am in tears. xxx

  2. Libby Hall permalink
    November 21, 2012


    Three cheers for East End Trades Guild!

  3. November 21, 2012

    Really inspirational. It’s great to hear the meeting went well, that links have been forged, and that there is such momentum to help the Guild succeed. Good luck, everyone.

  4. November 21, 2012

    Wonderful! Well done – lovely to see everyone getting together.

  5. Susan Goldman permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Congratulations and good luck to all the small businesses of the East End Trades Guild.

  6. November 21, 2012

    Fantastic. Not sure how much you GA helped this synchronicity, but even it if it is only doing this report then you should be proud. As you put it – together we are stronger, and localism has to be an incredibly important force to sustain us all. Love the photos too. Nicola

  7. Judy Martino permalink
    November 21, 2012

    I’ve been following your efforts with delight and admiration — and some envy — from Newberry Florida. Congratulations, good work, best wishes!

  8. david donoghue permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Absolutely brilliant! Well done!

  9. aubrey permalink
    November 21, 2012

    They all look very happy in the photographs. Let’s hope that they will continue to be that way, into the future. Bon chance to all!

  10. Dr Melvyn H Brooks permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Congratulations from distant Israel. I wish you much success.

  11. Chris F permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Makes me want to start up a small business in the East End… Well done everyone & long may you reign….

  12. November 21, 2012

    oh super!
    super !
    super !,
    this is SO inspiring and heartfelt , you are brilliant all of you…..well done and continued success and may many lifelong friendships be fostered.

    welcome to the East End Trades Guild

  13. JES permalink
    November 21, 2012

    So beautiful! Congratulations!

  14. November 22, 2012

    I recognise so many of these faces from your stories – feels like meeting old friends. Good luck to the traders with this new venture.

  15. November 22, 2012

    What a wonderful evening, thank you to all who made the event happen.

  16. November 22, 2012

    We joined the guild 2 weeks ago but could not make this first meeting 🙁

    it looks like everyone had a great time and got the guild off to a great start.

  17. November 26, 2012

    full of admiration, a fantastic launch – long may the Guild get stronger.

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