Celebrating culture through scent

Teacher, author and candle-maker, Brixton resident Syreeta Walker, keeps busy. Her latest venture will see her selling her candles in Kingston. She talked about her life and work to Simone Richardson

portrait of woman
Syreeta Walker

Should you happen to be passing John Lewis in Kingston upon Thames any time in the near future, call in and visit a pop-up run by Brixton resident Syreeta Walker.

Born in Brixton, Syreeta Walker has lived here most of her life. Her grandparents, with Jamaican heritage, lived in Brixton and Tulse Hill for more than 50 years, and parents Johnny and Maureen Walker still live in Brixton.

She also works here, running the Brixton Candle Company (BCC) as part of her very busy life which includes teaching children with special educational needs.

BCC is “a luxury ethical eco-friendly and handmade candle company selling signature wax candles with essential fragrance oil candles blended in-house.”

Candles are free from artificial colours and parabens and use soy wax and essential oil fragrances. They are made in small batches, hand-poured and hand-crafted.

Fragrances “are inspired by Brixton and the Caribbean heritage of the Windrush”.

candles

Five are available:

Market Row – inspired by the Brixton’s bustling markets – “an evocative fragrance with notes of a hemp, incense and sweet orange. It takes you to the Frontline of your senses”.

Cerassie – inspired by Jamaica’s medicinal herbal tree – is “invigorating and herbaceous with warm sage, fresh bay rum and thyme among others”.

Mama Polenta – inspired Syreeta’s mother’s cornmeal porridge – “this wonderful fragrance is warm and festive with notes of vanilla, cloves and spiced pink pepper and nutmeg, and sure to keep you calm during these dark times”.

Baiana – inspired by Notting Hill carnival– is “a bright and punchy tropical cacophony of juicy apples, coconut and pineapple, taking you to an international tropical beach even if you can’t fly … this fragrance will take your senses away”.

Eritrea Nights – inspired by the East African coffee culture – “I was on a date at a local Eritrean restaurant where I ordered coffee and it cane with popcorn. I immediately had to recreate the fragrance with coffee notes mixed with warm hazelnut and sweet caramel. Such a sultry, sweet and enigmatic scent.

“Scent is a very important sense that is responsible for creating a particular atmosphere,” says Syreeta.

After spending a lot of money on candles, she decided she wanted candles that were “unique, different and eco-friendly”.

So she set up in her online home-based business in Brixton.

“What I enjoy about living and working in Brixton is the variety, the people the energy and the history and culture.

“Brixton is in my heritage and culture. I have family members who were in the Brixton riots fighting for my freedom, Brixton means a lot to me.

“My aim is for the culture to be maintained and remembered through my brand.

“The slogan is ‘celebrating culture through scent’.

“Brixton and its people are my muse, providing inspiration and celebration in the myriad of cultures that reside here.

“In the current day where there is much division, there is a unique solidarity here of all races and social classes, which is refreshing to see.”

woman in department store
Syreeta with her pop-up shop

Syreeta began to express herself “through words and reading” at St Jude’s primary school in Herne Hill.

She moved on to Harris City Technology College – now Harris City Academy – in Crystal Palace.

She did an undergraduate course in food and consumer studies doing at London Metropolitan University in North London and gained a post graduate certificate in education (PGCE) at the University of East London in Stratford to teach design technology.

Reflecting on how her studies have led her to her current work, she says: “I have always been a keen, creative and expressive person.

“I am an educator, teaching children with autism. I feel so blessed doing it.”

Syreeta Walker has truly busy days in many different ways.

Her teaching work in East London continued throughout lockdown.

“Lockdown affected me like everyone else in a good way to be retrospective and creative,” Syreeta says.

book cover

She even found time to write a book – Glaucoma and Me – under her pen name, Melba O’Conner.

It is a book about a young girl living with glaucoma and some of the daily challenges she faces.

“I have been living with glaucoma for the past 20 years,” Syreeta says.

“I am visually impaired and want to be an inspiration to others.

“I was born short-sighted and weighed only 1pound, 12ounces when I was born.

“With both my book and candles, I want to raise awareness of glaucoma and the visual impairment (VI) community.

Glaucoma can begin without any noticeable symptoms, so it is important to have your eyes checked every two years as a minimum.

 If you have any sight concerns you should see your GP and contact Blind Aid UK, a charity that, due to her personal experience, Syreeta Walker enjoys volunteering for.

candles

Syreeta’s Kingston pop-up runs until 22 August.

Candles can also be purchased at Pempamsie in Brixton, Walthamstow and Lewisham, as well as Tumbles on Railton Road in Brixton.

A portion of Syreeta’s candle sales goes the Moorfields Eye hospital charity to support and raise awareness of visual impairment.

Instagram @brixton_candleco

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