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Paul Gardner Goes To Downing St

December 3, 2016
by the gentle author

Today is East End Independents’ Day celebrating the small businesses and shops of East London

“I just hope something might happen”

Paul Gardner, the fourth generation paper bag seller of Spitalfields’ oldest family business Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen and founder of the East End Trades Guild, went to 10 Downing St yesterday to meet Margot James, the Minister for Small Businesses.

After Gardners’ Market Sundriesman was honoured by being selected as one of Britain’s top One Hundred Small Businesses, Paul joined fellow proprietors from across the country in Whitehall on Thursday. This event was in advance of Small Business Saturday, which is celebrating independent shops across the nation today.

I met Paul afterwards while he was still flush with excitement and pride from his moment in the political spotlight. “They were taking so many pictures of me when I was standing in the street in Whitehall that other people were coming up to have their photos taken beside me,” Paul admitted with a grin, “Because I had a suit on they thought I must be important in government – someone said, ‘Is he a Lord or something?’ I said, ‘Not yet!'”

“I set up a stall inside Downing St with all my paper bags and memorabilia. There were about twenty-five stalls but most of the other businesses did not have anything to show because they worked in IT or marketing and were quite new. They did not have my history. There were none like me, who have had a small family business that has gone on for four generations through thick and thin.

Margot James, Minister for Small Businesses, gave a speech about how important we were for the economy and then she went around the stalls to visit us all. I told her what a struggle it is for small businesses and I gave her a paper bag with a letter to Theresa May in it, concerning our problems with business rates in London.

The rateable value of my shop was £18,000 but it is going up to £40,000 in March. It means not much of a future for my business. I have not got much to look forward to if I have to pay £500 a week business rates before my rent, which is already fairly unbearable. When I tell people what I have to pay they are flabbergasted. Most people who run a small business are just keeping their heads above water, but if they have another £300 a week to find that will be the end.

People come to East End for the little independent shops – they do not come here for High St brands – but the little independent businesses are suffering. The landscape will change considerably in Brick Lane and the surrounding areas because the prices of goods in the shops will have to go up so much that they will become unworkable and people will buy on the internet instead. The rents are so completely mad. There have been 300% increases. Even some of the big people are moving out. Barbour quit the Spitalfields Market recently.

‘They are looking in it,’ Margot James said to me. Whether they are or not I do not know but she seemed concerned. It is very hard to know whether they will do anything. I did the best I could to ask her because I am in fear whether my business will be here much longer and whether there will be many small businesses left in the East End. It will not be workable for most of us any more.

Primarily, I was there to celebrate my business and Margot liked all the artefacts because there are no other paper bag shops. So she was pleased to meet me and I did manage to speak to her a lot. I got to the point fairly quickly and she was quite forthcoming.

I was very pleased and honoured that I was invited. It was a defining moment in my life, going to 10 Downing St. I think my mum will be very proud of me. It was one of those days that will stick out for the rest of my life and I just hope something might happen.”


Dear Theresa May,

Last Monday, you stated “I will always be one of the strongest advocates for the role businesses play in creating jobs, generating wealth and supporting a strong economy and society.” Today you celebrate the vast contribution that small businesses have given to this role, yet government policy simultaneously threatens to extinguish it by implementing an excessively high rates revaluation to small businesses in London, the bedrock of a “strong economy and society.” Gardners’ Bags, and businesses like it will not  be able to carry the burden of this policy. Be sure to celebrate our founding member Paul Gardner today, because his business will be destroyed next year if urgent action is not taken.

London is home to over 800,000 small and medium sized enterprises and micro businesses, that make up 99.8% of London’s private sector, representing nearly fifty per cent of all employment in the capital, and (excluding the financial and insurance sector) accounting for approximately £430 billion of business turn-over. The East End Trades Guild  is a leading innovator in the organisation and representation of this booming constituency. Our members have helped make the East End the creative and social hub of London, and a pull for millions of international visitors and locals. Serving 520,000 people per month with a total turnover of £77 million, we still manage to know many of our customers by name.

Businesses across London face a rates increase of over 100%, this simply cannot be sustained. The Federation of Small Businesses’ recent survey of micro and small businesses in the capital, found that nearly two thirds (63%) will miss out on business rate exemption. Displacing them to other regions will not only intensify the environmental damage that already shortens the lives of our children, it will cut off sustainable growth, not just for London but for the country. It is the particular diversity of enterprises within London that is essential to healthy local economies – the backbone of a strong national economy.

We back calls from the Federation of Small Businesses to increase relief threshold in the capital, and support the All Party Parliamentary Group for London in their plea to revise the transitional relief proposals, to give small businesses a realistic chance of planning for the rates increases caused by a seven year gap since the last revaluation.

The East End Trades Guild was formed to take action on the common interests of its small business members from a position of strength. The story of Spitalfields oldest family enterprise – Gardners’ Bags, in the globally popular blog Spitalfields Life was the catalyst for the establishment of our Guild. We are proud that our founder – Paul Gardner has been selected as one of the Small Business 100, and  is receiving highly deserved recognition at number 10 Downing Street today.

While you celebrate Paul Gardner and all the small businesses that give so much to our country today, we ask that you help us to help you “build a stronger, fairer Britain together” and pursue urgent action on business rates for London and be the “government that is not afraid to act to ensure the benefits of economic growth are shared by all.”

Yours sincerely

The East End Trades Guild

Waving to the assembled crowd

Paul took a case of paper bag samples to Downing St

Paul in his usual attire as the ‘Paper Bag Baron of Spitalfields’

Photographers Hannah Lane, Sarah Ainslie & The Gentle Author

Gardners Market Sundriesmen, 149 Commercial St, Spitalfields, E1

Follow Paul Gardner on twitter @gardnersbags

You may like to read my other stories about Paul Gardner & Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

At Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Paul Gardner, Paper Bag Baron

Roy Gardner’s Sales Tickets

Paul Gardner’s Collection

Joan Rose at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

James Brown at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Vigil at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

Christmas at Gardners’ Market Sundriesmen

15 Responses leave one →
  1. December 3, 2016

    Oh good luck,.
    I am truly worried about the future of London at its creative and individual entrepreneurship level. Tales of young people moving out because of rents are increasingly common and the young people who can afford to stay are living with Mum & Dad, meaning we’re moving toward a more monoculture group of relatively privileged white middle class kids. Ultimately meaning less creativity, as creativity requires diversity.
    It’s socially irresponsible to abandon small business to the effects of eg London land prices shooting through the roof because of investors looking for a safe place for their money.
    Speaking as a member of a ‘hard-working family, apparently beloved by British politicians’, and in the hope that Margot James / her office may see this, I very much support Paul Gardner and the East End Trades Guild. Caroline

  2. December 3, 2016

    I very much hope that the government will help, then the rates are exorbitant. Paul looks great at Downing Street. Valerie

  3. December 3, 2016

    Well done Paul :well deserved recognition. Let’s hope and pray that the Government listens

  4. Hilary permalink
    December 3, 2016

    I hope that you are successful in your campaign to reduce business rates. Communities need their small businesses!

  5. December 3, 2016

    Well done Paul Gardner. How smart he looks. My dog Pepper wears winter coats knitted by Paul’s mum. She will be very proud …

  6. December 3, 2016

    The harsh face of government. I notice the word community is missing from Mrs May’s tribute to small businesses. Paul’s business ticks so many boxes environment (paper bags are the future), community and service orientated. I am so sorry he could be priced out by such a hike in rates.

  7. Helen Breen permalink
    December 3, 2016

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, thanks for yet another great human story. I wish Paul and the Guild the best.

    The circumstances for small business folks on this side of the pond are similar – unfortunately. But what a thrill to be invited to Downing Street…

  8. December 3, 2016

    Hurrah and huzzah, for Paul. Sending high hopes from the Hudson River Valley in New York.
    There is nothing quite like a personal/personable Ambassador showing up at 10 Downing
    Street (with a sample case!!) to put a face on the issue of Entrepreneurship. I have watched the video about Paul’s shop, on this blog site, and have always thought……”Now, THAT’s my
    kind of place”. With all my heart, I hope that ALL governments support small businesses, and allow all of us who are self-employed to thrive and make our own way.

  9. Shawdian permalink
    December 3, 2016

    £500 OUTRAGE

    Well done Paul! But I am horrified and very angry that businesses like this are being charged
    a heafty extra £500 per week when it is more sensible to up charges in small amounts over a period of time. I am still upset about the lovely famous old book shops in Charing Cross closing down because of this same ourtrage. Book shops I loved and would spend hundreds of pounds, these businesses were a part of London even people from around the world loved to visit on their trips to England. Now most are glass fronted veggie bars one week and something else the next. We should be helping long standing businesses like Paul Gardners, not putting them out of business. Will keep our fingers crossed ¥

  10. Joan KULUKUNDIS permalink
    December 3, 2016

    Let us hope that the government listens!
    Small business are often what keeps an area alive!
    Rents should be controlled to assist.
    Well done taking it up with the minister and good luck!

  11. December 3, 2016

    Well done, Paul. Let’s hope it makes a difference.

  12. pauline taylor permalink
    December 3, 2016

    Well done Paul, and good luck with getting business rates reduced for small businesses. You have all my sympathy as I too run a small business. We have paper bags for our books that customers buy, and one man told me that they are so pretty that he uses them as lampshades!!

  13. Londoner permalink
    December 3, 2016

    What a nice guy!

    I sincerely hope that he and others in similar circumstances manage to overcome the difficulties ahead.

    Sadly, I do not share their faith in possible Government intervention. This Government is more interested in big business, and any reference to “hard working people” inevitably turns out to be empty rhetoric.

  14. gabrielle permalink
    December 5, 2016

    I’ve been to Paul’s amazing shop and in between customers he told me all about his business and concerns for the future. Obviously the ridiculous rise in rates is an excuse to get rid of small businesses in order to redevelop. I only hope that Paul succeeds in stemming the tide of change in London. Developers, with the government’s approval, have done enough damage to the face of London already! Another glass monstrosity, similar in size to the Shard, is going up just a short walk from Paul’s shop and more are planned. London is not Manhatten and skyscrapers are out of place here! Good luck to Paul (and others), one of the nicest, most genuine people I’ve had the pleasure to meet.

  15. Lisboeta permalink
    December 5, 2016

    The rise in rates/rents will spell the end of many smaller businesses. I doubt that the govt. will do more than utter platitudes, though. (Because SME’s are not major contributors to political parties: they don’t have spare cash to throw around!)

    P.S. Fascinating site. I only found it today, looking for more info about Whitechapel Foundry’s closure.

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