The people behind the presents in Brixton

As you hustle to complete your Christmas shopping in increasingly difficult times, spare a thought for the local people who create and provide them. Simone Richardson met some at Lambeth town hall in Brixton …

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Market organiser Lee Wilson

The market Lee Wilson organised at Lambeth town hall was such a success that the council’s events team will use it as a case study.

“Design LED creates unique shopping experiences in iconic venues,” she says. “What better venue than Lambeth town hall to end the year with our sustainable makers’ market?”

The event was a huge success and Design LED will be releasing new dates and more venues next year,” says Lee.

One key contributor was Calandra Smith’s Brixton Gin.

“We were in our flat on Rushcroft Road with a new-born baby and nowhere to go,” says Calandra.

“We couldn’t believe that Brixton didn’t have a gin of its own, so we decided to make it.

“We have sourced botanicals locally – including Brixton Bees honey.

“We’ve also partnered with Urban Growth, an organisation that transforms disused urban spaces into flourishing gardens.

“They’re growing wood violets, coriander, angelica and juniper for us. You’ll see them in gardens around Brixton, including at Pop Brixton.

“It’s not your usual origin story but the result is something delicious and delicate that stands out.”

couple pose at indoor market stall
Brixton Gin’ Calandra and Andrew

Once an aspiring actor, Calandra studied wine and gin in her spare time, hoping she might get to use the knowledge one day.

“And then I had a baby, and lockdown happened. It was my moment! Off the hamster wheel and into life as a business owner …”

Born in Hong Kong with parents from New Zealand and Ireland, Calandra has lived around the world, Brixton is where she fell in love and had her baby.

“It’s one of the most diverse places in Europe, and somewhere that welcomed me with open arms,” she says.

“My partner in life and gin, Andrew Murray-Watson, is very much a Brixtonian who has lived here for nearly two decades.

“Brixton is a great big melting pot of everything I love about life: people from all around the world, yummy food to feast on, and a community that embraces you like nowhere else I’ve ever lived.”

You can buy or enjoy a Brixton Gin in Brixton at any of these stores or bars – Guzzl in Brixton Village, Wine Parlour, The Laundry, Brixton Studio social club in Piano House, Sushi Revolution, 384, Shrub and Shutter, the Satay Bar, and Karakana.

Over-18s who would rather stay home amid the current uncertainty can order a bottle online.

man with wooden food boards
Damien Tansey

From wardrobes to food service boards

Damien Tansey was born in Croydon and lives in South Norwood.

He studied graphic design and 3D animation and worked in hospitality after university, but did part-time carpentry and building work as well.

Now with his own business, he builds bespoke furniture, wardrobes and shelving around South London.

Damien recently started creating one of a kind hand-made food service boards which he sells at local markets.

“I spend a lot of time in Brixton for both work and socially,” he says.

“I’ve spent many evenings seeing live music at Hootananny, and enjoying the local bars and pubs.

“One of my favourite things about Brixton is the wide range of fantastic food venues, providing culinary delights from all around the world”

Check his work on Instagram or his website.

man holds children's book
Denhue Harris

Our preferred place to trade …

Children are expecting Father – or Mother – Christmas, if they are single mums like myself, to be sorting stocking-filler gifts.

Denhue Harris’ children’s books could have a place on anyone’s list.

Arriving in Britain from Jamaica aged three, he grew up in North London. Now he’s in Putney, “down the road” from Brixton.

From an early age, he has had a passion for aeroplanes and engineering which began with a visit to Gatwick airport.

“I remember being awestruck by the hustle and bustle of the airport and, in particular, the spectacular aircraft.

“That early interest set me off on a journey to learn everything I could about aviation.

“What followed years later was a bachelor of science degree in aerospace technology from the University of Hertfordshire, where I studied in detail how aeroplanes fly and much more.

“In the real world, I applied this knowledge for 15 years in the airline industry, travelling to countless destinations globally, applying all that I had learnt to ensure that the highest levels of safety are upheld in airlines.”

But he changed course.

“Natalie Bent, my co-founder and partner, were having a casual conversation about how difficult it is, as new parents, to find wide-ranging books for young children with main character representation of Black people specifically.

“The data painted a problematic picture. A third of children in English schools are from an ethnic minority group. However, in the UK only 5% of children’s books feature a main character from a non-white background.

“Children are 8.2% more likely to see an animal main character in children’s books than a non-white character.”

Now Denhue splits his time between “keeping the airline I work for safe at all times” and children’s books.

He writes them; Natalie illustrates them. And they both care for their “busy bee” of a toddler daughter who “has always been the fuel that’s powered us through such a crucial time”.

“Our goal for the future is to help diversify the classroom by donating our books and learning resources to schools and nurseries.

“Only 6.2% of UK students that enrol on a STEM (science, technology, engineering, maths) related subject are Black.

“Due to our background in STEM, we want to provide a platform that encourages Black parents to embrace STEM for their children because it is an industry which creates innovators, leaders and the inventors of tomorrow.

Little Scholars Playground was born in February 2021 – “with a single mission to create engaging, diverse children’s literature, tackling this imbalance”.

Natalie grew up in the Brixton/Oval and their dating days saw them frequent the area.

“I’ve always loved the vibrancy and strong Jamaican cultural associated with Brixton,” Denhue says.

“Brixton really is a multi-ethnic community, inviting and homely.

“As our products are for all people, regardless of background, we couldn’t think of a better place than Brixton to engage with our customers face-to-face.

“You will regularly see us trading at markets as we introduce our products to customers. Right in the heart of Brixton is always our preferred place to trade.” 

More on Instagram

woman displays an ornamental cushio
Terri Dean

Finding treasure in Brixton

There was another Putney connection at the town hall market. Terri Dean was born there 67 years ago – although she certainly doesn’t look it!

She later lived on Upper Tulse Hill, walked to Brixton Tube to get to work, and was married at Brixton register office.

“Our local was the [now disappeared] Hop Poles, where we had our wedding reception. We were poor as church mice but still had a wonderful day.”

Later Terri moved to Crystal Palace and then Anerley, where she lives to this day.

She won a place at Croydon School of Art, but her parents refused to let her go. “It was 1969/70 and LSD was rife. I suspect they thought I would be led astray!” she says.

“My mother taught me how to sew and knit when I was a child. Since then, my creative juices have led me down different paths.

“I have a City and Guilds in interior design and did a course at the London College of Fashion for wedding dresses.

“During my whole life, whatever job I was in, I would still find the time to express my creative side, be it art or making clothes and knitting jumpers.

“I also worked at a florist in West Dulwich – a wonderful way to earn a living. Again, the creative side of me ran riot.”

Terri’s day starts with walking her own dog, Ralphie, and four others, that she feels keeps her “fixed and focused”. 

Sewing then continues throughout her day with breaks for herself and her dog.

“During lockdown I completely redecorated my flat,” says Terri. “It made me relax and feel very grateful for what I have.

“I also experimented with colour, painting my bedroom and bathroom ceilings in gold and my living room and kitchen ceilings pink! Why stick to boring old white?

“I did a wee bit of sewing, but not too much, as the pandemic threw all plans up in the air.”

Even though she no longer lives in Brixton, Terri goes there often, mainly to Simply Fabrics.

“They have a great selection of end of roll designer fabrics, they’re helpful and friendly, their haberdashery shop is like going through treasure. I love it there.

“I like to mooch about the area for a while before heading back up the hill. It’s such a colourful and vibrant place, I hope it never changes.”

See Terri’s work via Instagram.

Applause for the band

South London teens the Mocktales played for people arriving and leaving the market. They were spotted by Lee Wilson who saw the band taking part in a charity “20 gigs in 20 days” challenge.

Their own songs, Newsflash and Victims Of A Ballroom Dance got people clapping, says guitarist Matthew.

And, says his sister Isabelle: “Everyone from the stall holders, organisers and employees of the town hall were supportive of us playing there and we were told that we might be given the chance to play on the stage of the Assembly Hall in the near future, which we’d love to do.”

And Ice beats her drum for Brixton too. “We always love busking in Brixton because the people are really supportive of live music and the songs in our set,” she says.

“Brixton particularly likes the covers we do from The Who, Sex Pistols, The Jam and Clash. Down In The Tube Station at Midnight went down really well and was well cheered!”

The Mocktales recently opened for The Libertines at the Forum in Kentish Town. On Saturday 8 January you can catch them at Nambucca, another North London venue, supporting The Priscillas at a Bowie birthday gig.