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At JC Motors, Haggerston

August 17, 2015
by the gentle author

Leonard Maloney

“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.”

Click here to sign the petition to Transport for London to support  J C Motors & the other small businesses under the railway arches

The team at J C Motors

Joe Chee is commemorated in the name of the company ‘JC Motors’, followed by Leonard’s initials

Miles Maloney

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”

Adnan Leal

Leonard & his son Miles

Leonard Maloney

Photographs copyright © Sarah Ainslie

J C Motors LDM, 332 Stean St, Haggerston, E8 4ED

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8 Responses leave one →
  1. August 17, 2015

    JC Motors and Leonard is a fantastic example of a hardworking man, who supports the community by helping others. When all the little shops and places get driven away to make more money for the greedy investors, what is going to be left? Good luck to Leonard and others in the same situation, and hope they get lots of support to save their businesses. Valerie

  2. Peter permalink
    August 17, 2015

    Small businesses like this are the lifeblood of local communities.

    I really enjoyed reading about Mr Maloney and how he steadily built up his garage.
    More especially the trust of his customers; a very rare thing nowadays and to be cherished by all.

    I sincerely hope the business is able to survive, both Mr Moloneys customers and the community are the better for it.

  3. Lucy permalink
    August 17, 2015

    TfL says: “Our role is to keep London working and growing and make life better” but they ignore the important part played by their own tenants. Londoners don’t want to lose the services provided by businesses like Leonard’s. TfL’s budget is £11,500,000,000 (11.5 billion) of which 23% is local and government grants and we have every right to tell TfL to stop this harassment.

  4. August 17, 2015

    Signed the petition. Good luck to Leonard and the other businesses, I hope they will survive.

  5. annie s permalink
    August 17, 2015

    Thank you for bringing attention to these causes.

  6. August 17, 2015

    It’s a little bit curious: While you are liking the Volkswagen Camper Vans, I always fall in love when seeing a Landrover Defender… My Dream Car!

    Love & Peace

  7. August 18, 2015

    I have been going to Len with successive VWs since Joe was alive. He and his staff are old friends as well as first class mechanics. The place is a haven of civility and good practice in a ragged world of call waiting and takeovers. I have lived in the borough since 1980 and enjoyed its rebirth. Over all that time it is the past that has fed the future. This business is the best of the past and the future so we must not let it go!

  8. Penny permalink
    August 18, 2015

    Great to see Len again, to hear that JC Motors has continued to thrive and to have the chance to back the campaign to keep down rental prices for long-established local businesses. We haven’t seen Len since we let our old Volkswagon camper go more than a decade ago, but Len serviced it for many years. We always awaited the MOT inspection with trepidation, but at JC Motors Len always came up with a cost effective way of keeping the vehicle safe and on the road. The very best of luck to him and his team.

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