A photography exhibition by Jim Grover
30 September – 31 December, 2020
SATURDAY 1 AUGUST Timothy first came to Honest Tom’s in May, when he started working on Clapham Common for Lambeth Council at the weekends; during the week he works for himself as a painter and decorator in Sydenham. He is of Jamaican heritage. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘It didn’t really bother me because I know that I can’t get it. I take certain things to prevent getting it – guava leaf and soursop leaf in the morning, and when I go home in the evening – and I make special teas with them – and sometimes I will take a bit of bicarbonate. It’s part of my culture. So I lived my life normally – I didn’t really think of it because I know I can’t catch it. It’s fate. I know one girl that caught the virus – she is still alive – I visit her and help her out a bit.’ SUNDAY 2 AUGUST Dave owns ‘Dave’s Paws’, a professional dog walking, cat feeding, and pet sitting business. He has been coming to Honest Tom’s for six years as it’s on his daily dog-walking route. Today he is walking only Luna. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘Our business has taken a massive hit. We lost a few dogs where clients lost their businesses – although we’re still walking their dogs for free. All our cat business went out of the window because, obviously, no one is going away and leaving their cats.’ MONDAY 3 AUGUST Three generations wait for their lunch on Tom’s bench: Penelope, her daughter Rebecca and Rebecca’s partner Jamie, who is a director of a food ingredients business, and their son, Max. Jamie discovered Honest Tom’s a month ago on one of his walks, and they now come all the time, typically for lunch. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Penelope: ‘Not unduly’. Rebecca: ‘Only not going to baby groups’. Jamie: ‘Only in terms of work and working from home – which has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t be able to be here today, I’d be in an office in Wapping.’ THURSDAY 6 AUGUST Victor (on the left) has been coming for just a few weeks. Harvey has been coming for a year or two; he’s an electrical engineer but sometimes helps his friend out with food deliveries. They are part of a group of motor-biker friends who meet up most days at Honest Tom’s. Some of them use it as a base, glued to their mobile phones, as they wait for courier jobs to bid for from the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats (beneficiaries of Covid). On a typical day they earn around £50-60; a really good day is worth £100-£150. At 17, Harvey isn’t quite old enough to work for one of the food courier firms (‘I wish’). Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Victor: ‘It didn’t really affect me because I kept on working right through – doing deliveries for Uber Eats. I work every day. I was fine.’ Harvey: ‘No – not really – I kept on doing the daily things in life. But there hasn’t been enough part-time work for me as an electrical engineer’. FRIDAY 7 AUGUST Matt comes once or twice a week and has been coming for around three years; he’s an electrician. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘Yes. Covid put the company I work for completely out of business. I’m self-employed and they told us to sit at home until further notice – they’re still shut down today. I had no income and had to find other means of employment. I’ve got some work now, if you can call it work, for my uncle – it’s still money but it’s not what I TUESDAY 11 AUGUST Michael has been coming for around 10 years. He’s ex-army and lives in a flat in Balham provided by the ex-services housing association; his son is a doctor. ‘There’s not many jobs for anti-tank gunners round here unless you decide to become a mercenary!’ so now he does a bit of film extra work, plays the classical guitar (‘it keeps me alive’), and has recently been learning some 17th century poetry (‘which will be good for a pint in the pub!’). Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ’To be quite honest I never expected to be still here with all the fear around – totally exaggerated. But, touch wood, I have survived. I have saved a lot of money – there’s more money in my bank accounts – and it makes you realise how you fritter it away. There is a bright lining to every dark cloud – there’s something to be learned from everything.’ WEDNESDAY 12 AUGUST Max (on the left) and Gary are bricklayers working a short walk away. Max has been coming to Honest Tom’s for around three years and comes whenever he is working in the area; for Gary this is his first time, brought along by Max. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Max: ‘I had my holiday cancelled – I’ve booked another holiday to Croatia with the money I got back. I had a little bit of time off work but got the money back from the government. So all OK really’. Gary: ’Not really – I was off work for around a month. I’m self-employed – I had a short break and that was it.’ THURSDAY 13 AUGUST Holly is Tom’s granddaughter. Her dad, Simon, now owns and runs Honest Tom’s where Holly works the afternoon shift, following in her grand-dad’s footsteps. She started work in January, a few weeks before Tom’s was forced to shut in March, the first time it has been closed in its 30-year history. Holly is also a graphic artist. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘With Tom’s being closed I was out of work for 10 weeks. It was a lovely holiday, (she laughs slightly sheepishly). I spent all my time in the countryside – every day I was going on long walks in the fields – going up to the farm. And although I wasn’t getting paid I still had support around me – everyone else seemed to be working harder – my partner (a police officer) was working much harder.’ SATURDAY 15 AUGUST This is the first time Zoe has sat on Tom’s bench. She comes to the Common ‘pretty much every day’ but stopped here today for a break having just taken up running. Zoe is an NHS hospital speech therapist and works in mental health and forensics. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘It has. I got stuck in Australia and unfortunately contracted the virus there. I went for a holiday for two weeks – but ended up there for two and a half months. It was pretty hard getting back – the airfares were expensive and they kept getting cancelling the flights – which happened to me – it was so unfortunate. But my work was good over here, I work for the NHS. I am fine now – I am one of the lucky ones. Work is busy.’ SUNDAY 16 AUGUST Nadine (on the right) has worked at Honest Tom’s for almost 27 years, she works the morning shift Tuesdays to Fridays and comes in from Croydon; she is here today to cover staff vacations. Nadine fills the vase on Tom’s bench with flowers each week to commemorate Tom who died last year and who she worked with over all those years. Susanne comes every Wednesday attracted by the company, ‘the lovely food, the absolutely lovely ladies’ in Honest Tom’s, and the opportunity to give her dog a sausage. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Susanne: ‘I have COPD (a lung condition) and had to stay locked in for two months, by myself, with my dog – it was horrible. I didn’t speak to anybody – I didn’t see none of my kids – my grandkids. It was depressing – awful – because I like to get out. I couldn’t wait to get back out – I didn’t feel anxious at all. Now I do anything – I spent the night with my grandkids last night – I baby sat and looked after them and cuddled up with them in bed. Someone died in my family of Covid – two days after – she was disabled and had a lot of issues.’ Nadine: ‘It stopped me working with Tom’s being shut. But I enjoyed being off – being indoors – getting things done – just me and Den (Nadine’s husband). It was hard not being able to see my kids and grandkids – but you’ve got Facetime and all that technology now. But other than that, I quite enjoyed it. I am never off sick – I just have my holidays – and it was nice to have a long break. It’s hard being on your feet for six hours each day at my age.’ MONDAY 24 AUGUST The tree over the bench provides some shelter for Freddie, Rob, and Te Keepa as the rain starts to fall. They are about to return to school for their final GCSE year. They have been to Honest Tom’s a few times before. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ’It’s been alright – staying indoors – not going out – working has been a bit harder’. THURSDAY 27 AUGUST Tony and Michaela started to come to Honest Tom’s six months ago, to meet up with their friends. They both now come almost every day. Tony does motorbike deliveries for a shop; Michaela is studying engineering at university and just got a first in some pre-return exams. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Tony: ‘I got kept in lockdown, like everyone else – and was out of work – I’m back at work now. It’s not like normal life; you’re under control – like when you’re younger and you’re under control by your parents. I’ve missed my freedom – I don’t like it.’ Michaela: ‘Not really – university stopped for a bit – but I didn’t mind!’ SUNDAY 30 AUGUST Theresa and William took pity on me, having heard that I had been waiting for three hours for someone to sit on the bench; by now it was early evening and the light was fading fast! This is Theresa’s second time at Honest Tom’s. William has been coming for some 20 years; he comes every morning at around half past 5 to get a cup of coffee on his way to work as an air conditioning engineer. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? Theresa: ‘Yes I was in the travel industry – I was in sales – I lost my job. I had just moved to London in January for the job – and now it’s gone unfortunately. They put me on furlough. They were very good to us and let us know every week and they still touch base with us – so it was a nice lay off. But they finally let me and a lot of people go due to Covid’. William: ‘On a personal level it hasn’t affected me in any way. As a maintenance engineer – I’ve worked right the way through as a key worker. I’ve been lucky when so many haven’t.’ MONDAY 31 AUGUST The final chapter in this month-long project and an incredibly moving encounter with Yvonne, whose experiences put all the others, who have come before her, into context. Yvonne has been coming to Honest Tom’s for ‘donkey’s years’, including when it was Tom working on his own and a much smaller snack wagon. She comes two or three times a week as she lives close by. A beaming smile illuminates Yvonne’s face as she proudly tells me she is a ‘great grannie’. Has Covid impacted you in any material way? ‘Well – yes – because my husband died. He collapsed at home and it took a couple of hours for the ambulance to come. We managed to get him to St George’s – and they kept him in there. He just couldn’t walk – he was in there a couple of weeks and then he caught this virus there – and he died. And my two daughters and I – we couldn’t see him – no contact … we couldn’t even say good-bye. And that was in March – he died in the beginning of April and we couldn’t bury him until May. And now I am on my own. It was a nightmare. It’s still a nightmare.’
Each day in August this year, award-winning local photographer Jim Grover photographed someone or a group of people sitting on a bench on Clapham Common and asked them how Covid had affected their lives.
The bench was erected in memory of “Honest Tom”, a local institution who ran a snack wagon for 30 years, but sadly passed away last year. His bench has a vase, which Nadine, who worked in Honest Tom’s for 27 years, fills with fresh flowers each week.
The process was deliberately random; whoever sat down became Jim’s subject for the day.
Sitters came from all walks of life: a bricklayer, a company director, students, motor-bikers, a dog-walker, an NHS speech therapist, an ex-army anti-tank gunner, government workers, a black cabbie, an analyst programmer, and a great-granny, amongst many others.
And their stories and experiences are similarly varied.
The result is a unique and powerful photo-story which brings to life the wide range of stories and experiences that we read and hear about every day.
The exhibition comprises 28 sequential photographs, with accompanying captions and stories.
Jim Grover said: “Everyone who sat on Tom’s bench has been through what we’ve all encountered over the past few months.
“But the impact on individual lives has been so varied, from surprisingly rewarding to absolutely harrowing, and everything in between.
“Yvonne’s moving story, on the last day of my month-long project, 31 August, put all the others into context; hers was life-changing.”
runs from 30 September to 31 December in the Covid Tales from Tom’s Bench Omnibus Theatre Café/Bar, 1 Clapham Common Northside SW4 0QW.
Opening times Thursday 9am to 8pm Friday and Saturday 9am to midnight Sunday 10am to 4.30pm
Admission is free
Viewing will be subject to safe social distancing guidelines. The exhibition will also be available to view online from 30 September at
Jim Grover’s website.
Jim Grover lives locally and teaches documentary photography at the
Leica Akademie UK.
In 2018, his solo exhibition in the Oxo Gallery on London’s South Bank, ‘
Windrush: Portrait of a Generation’, was one of the year’s must-see shows and was enjoyed by well over 20,000 visitors.
He is currently working on various photo-stories in South London, and his next major exhibition will be unveiled in 2021.