Thursday, 28 November 2013


Life can often feel like a treadmill, of work, eat, sleep, on an endless loop. It's easy to get stuck into a routine, and through lack of time or money, or both, lose sight of the world of possibilities out there. So I'm always impressed when I hear stories of people who find the energy to campaign and make things happen. And as I've discovered, there is no shortage of  drive and commitment among locals to make a difference on so many fronts, from the cinema and library campaigns, to Transition Town, and the future of Crystal Palace Park.

After studying International Relations (with Russian, Portuguese and Spanish) at LSE, Emma Astles joined the rat race, becoming a metals trader in the city. Though no doubt a lucrative position, she found it unfulfilling, and eventually embarked on a trip to Guatamala, to do voluntary work. From there she went on to northern Brazil, where she set up and ran a school in a notorious favela called Mata Escura (Dark Forest), a world away from Thornton Heath, where she grew up. The school is part of a charity, Grandmother Clara's Dream,  that Emma set up, to provide a safe place for local children, in an environment that was anything but safe. In an area of such poverty, a cook is also employed to provide regular meals for the children. 
After 3 years, Emma returned to London, and at first resumed her work in the city, but quickly realised she needed to work for herself, and preferably doing something related to children. And so in April this year, she opened a toyshop. The long term aim, once the business becomes profitable is for a proportion of the those profits to go towards the charity. The shop at 83 Church Road feels very much like an old fashioned toyshop, selling things that even I would recognise. Rather than simply stocking the biggest brand names, Emma tries to source interesting and unusual products from small suppliers. Some items, including cards, clothing and bunting are locally made, and being Crystal Palace, you will find plenty of dinosaur related merchandise.
Emma is proud to be among the Triangle's independent traders, particularly those along Church Road, and loves the local buzz. However, she's less keen on the one way traffic that races past the shop all day. The jolly green parrot which gives the shop its name is certainly a bright and welcome addition to the street, though sadly I photographed it before the lovely christmas decorations were installed. But then a local toyshop isn't just for Christmas after all.

Emma Astles
83 Church Road
020 8653 1070

Friday, 15 November 2013

Antenna - Café Thing

I learnt some Icelandic last week, well, just the one word, 'thing' which apparently means assembly. The quirkily named cafe tucked away at the bottom of Haynes Lane, has a half Icelandic owner, Jakob Kaye. He, and business partner, Darren Doherty own Antenna Studios above the cafe, and decided to turn the space downstairs into a cafe, after its previous incarnations as a guitar shop followed by a skateboard shop, hence the distinctive door handle.

Inside, I am greeted by Georgie Cook, who runs the cafe while Jakob and Darren look after their other projects. It's a bright simple space with a rustic timber counter, red banquette in the window, and red and white tables and chairs. Before the cafe opened in the summer of 2012, Georgie had been living in Paris and working as a Photographer, but had long had connections to SE19, having grown up in the area. When the cafe was first mooted, she had been full of suggestions for her friends at Antenna, so much so that they suggested she come and run the place!

You might be forgiven for not knowing of the cafe's existence. As I mentioned, it is somewhat off the beaten track, and it was only with the advent of the weekly saturday food market right outside its doors, that its profile was raised. As Georgie says, on saturdays it's heaving and effectively becomes the unofficial HQ of Crystal Palace Transition Town, the local group that set up the market. As well as excellent coffee, the cafe also serves excellent cakes made by local bakers, Brett & Bailey, who have a regular stall at the market. I can vouch for the cake, once photographed, it had to be eaten. And this small space is much more than just a cafe, it's also a venue for all sorts of happenings, including the RPM club, a monthly open decks vinyl night, Bonne Heure, an experimental music night with local group The Fireflies, and their guests.  Additionally, Almost Naked, is an acoustic folk night, and there are occasional poetry recitals.

Georgie Cook

Café Thing can also be hired for private events.

Café Thing
Bowyers Yard
Haynes Lane