Booming Woodgrange Road

Wednesday 12 June 2013

This week we offer two perspectives on the recent transformation of Woodgrange Road 

The revival of our town centre

by Lloyd Jeans
After weeks of hard graft Forest Gate’s latest independent entrepreneurs, Jeff and Andrea, finally opened to the public at 9am on Saturday 1st June 2013. ‘Number 8 Forest Gate’ is located next door to Coffee7 and opposite Kaffeine on what is fast becoming E7’s version of a traditional village green – the public space at the junction of Woodgrange and Sebert Road. This small area has been developing into a focus for connected local activities – economic, social and cultural – ever since the Woodgrange Market first set up its stalls there eighteen months ago on Saturday 10th December 2011.

June 2013, Number 8 opens for business

The market, initially sanctioned to operate on a trial basis for one Saturday a month for a period of six months, has grown from strength to strength. It was established by a small group of neighbourhood activists. Their aim was to try and revive the centre of Forest Gate by providing a showcase for its army of artists, designers, photographers, and traders in all sorts of healthy produce and original products.

Andrea checks opening day stocks

Prominent in this small group of original traders at the planning stage were its chair Laura Glendinning and Alicia Frances, who were on 1 November 2011 elected as, respectively, the president and secretary of Forest Gate’s successful branch of the Women’s Institute. In February this year Laura wrote to the Recorder to explain what had motivated her to act. 

She said that:

 We need to have more diversity in the high street and we should be encouraging a variety of small business so that people can shop locally ... since the development of Woodgrange Market many people ... now come not only to shop, but to socialise and have lunch. It has also allowed local people to have a go at trading, selling things they have made, or setting up a small business ... I think the regeneration of areas can come from the community itself.

WI cake stall, regular feature of Woodgrange Market

The WI stall, with its wonderful displays of home baking, has been a prominent feature of the market throughout its short history – a story of grass-roots effort that does appear to bear out the theory that revival is possible if it grows organically from below, but success is far less likely with regeneration schemes imposed from above by politicians and developers.

Market has gone from strength to strength

Also in this pioneering group of marketeers were Mic and Mary Clarke, subsequently the proprietors of Coffee7, another neighbourhood hub which has to be recognised as an important agent in the rebirth of our town centre. Along with the complementary Kaffeine coffee shop, it has provided a place for people to meet and co-operate in a wide range of interesting (and hopefully profitable) ventures and enterprises. 

Cllr. Kay Scoresby – at the time the mayor’s "advisor" for Forest Gate – was helpful in smoothing the way in the council, and the seeds were sown.

With the media full of Mary Portas and the government wailing about the death of the high street, it is incredible that there are only two shops boarded up in Forest Gate town centre. Another factor must be the amazing diversity of the local population, which opens up a wide variety of opportunities for independent traders and incomers who might prefer to work for themselves.

Woodgrange News - home to five separate independent traders

Woodgrange News is a good example in that it hosts no less than five other businesses. Adam the newsagent says that he could easily fill another floor given the number of people walking in every week asking for space for yet another niche enterprise.

‘Number 8 Forest Gate’ goes a long way towards fulfilling the hopes of the original marketeers in that all the twenty or so traders who fill its every nook and cranny live and work in Forest Gate. Managers Jeff Levi (Panda Jewellery) and his partner Andrea (Vintage Uber Glitz) negotiate costs on an individual basis, and there is a small percentage on every item sold. 

But otherwise all the proceeds go to the individual trader. We will certainly be returning to the emporium’s other entrepreneurs in the future, but time and space allow brief profiles of two only - Jason Christopher and Antonietta Torsiello.

Jason Christopher is a Forest Gate artist who founded jsmART Designs ( to offer customers a “unique, personal and bespoke creative service.” He has hired space at the back of ‘Number Eight Forest Gate’ to display examples of his paintings and other original works (pictured) which he creates freehand, using traditional methods. He specialises in acrylics on canvas, murals, sketches and traditional sign-writing, and offers to replicate any picture or photograph.

Antonietta Torsiello is a young and again local visual artist and textile designer who had previously taken a market stall to sell her greetings cards and larger pictures (pictured). Now she has taken some space on the side wall of ‘Number 8  Forest Gate’ to showcase her work, which is starting to attract interest outside E7 as well as within. She has exhibited widely over the past three years, and is currently developing her print and textile patterns.

Anonietta Torsiello's market stall

No Portas Blues in Woodgrange Road

by John Walker
The activity at the junction of Sebert and Woodgrange Roads as a busy market mirrors the significance of the spot a century ago - when as can be seen from the photo from above the Woodgrange Dental surgery, the area was adjacent to Forest Gate's market place. As a busy market place, this had its own mobile coffee stall - see illustration below (reproduced courtesy of the Newham archives).
The Marketplace, Woodgrange Road
To some local people the new buzz around the area is dismissed as part of the "yuppification" of the Forest Gate. In an odd kind of way, however, it offers a perfect complement to the rest of the retail offer of the booming area. The secret is simple: local shops succeed where they meet local needs, and Forest Gate's enormous ethnic mix provides a considerable opportunity to a huge array of ethnic retail entrepreneurship.

Coffee stall at Forest Gate clock tower, early years of 20th century

While other high streets wither on the vine, dominated by the usual dreary mixture of national outlets, where the shopping experience is identical to that in dozens of identikit high streets, which customers reject in favour of out-of-town shopping malls and massive supermarkets and internet purchases, Forest Gate's reflects the rich cultural mix of the local population.

Woodgrange Road, 1985, a time of local decline

Just like other high streets, Woodgrange Road has its public service outlets: with a post office, police and railways stations, nursery, doctors surgeries, dentists, chemists, opticians and a recently re-opened library/customer service centre etc. We have the usual array of local convenience shops too: newsagents, grocers, greengrocers, cafes, dry cleaners, bakers, a rather good local butcher, pound and value household goods shops and a token charity shop.  

The professions are also out in force: lawyers, accountants, estate agents, together with the jobbing traders found everywhere: barbers and hair stylists, outfitters and three national supermarkets (Tesco, the Co-op and Iceland).
Customer self-service at the recently 
re-opened Gate, Woodgrange Rd

On the downside we have too many bookies for many people's liking - 5 (William Hill, Jennings, Ladbrokes, Betfair and Paddy Power) and fast food outlets (10) - Pizza Hut, KFC, Papa's Chicken, Favourite Chicken, Royal Fried Chicken, Chicken Inn, Charcoal Grill plus a Greggs and a Percy Ingle. 

These, of course meet a real need, often as social and meeting centres for many local people cooped up in bedsit land and shared rooms, predominant in much of our patch.
But what makes Woodgrange Road so very different from many another high street, however, and explains its high retail occupancy rate is its ability to cater for our very diverse local population, with its mix of international food and travel-related businesses.

What other golden half mile of British high street (from Romford Road to Wanstead Park railway station) could boast a thriving?:

• Afghan restaurant (number 52),
• Chinese restaurant (56),
• Indian/Chinese/Thai buffet (Dhoom, former Princess Alice),
• Turkish restaurant (43),
• African restaurant (77),
• Thai cafe (101),
• Afro-Caribbean cafe (108),
• Halal butchers (30),
• Bangladeshi food bazaar (45),
• Asian fish shop (97)
• Polish delicatessen (79),
• Romanian supermarket (99),
• Bangladeshi cash and carry (93),
• Chinese herbalist (50),
• Haj travel agent (Station Approach),
• 3 other travel agents (36, 104 and Station Approach),
• Travel goods shop (39),
• Western Union international money transfer shop (11),
• Pak money transfer shop (Station Approach),
• Global cargo company (52 - 54),
• International postal service (Station Approach),
• Two photographers specialising in passport photos (Station Approach and the Post Office),
• An immigration and legal services company (95),
• An Afro hair and nail bar (15),
• and, of course, a mosque (98).
Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine at Dhoom

So, there you are, Czarina Portas - the real clue to local retail success: a plethora of shops that meet a profusion of local needs in a thriving culturally and ethnically diverse and vibrant community.

It is perhaps fitting that in the week of Tom Sharpe's death that we are able to proclaim that there are no Portas Blues in Woodgrange Road!


  1. So pleased this little bit of East London is regenerating in such a positive way.My Daghter and my self have noticed a really upbeat quality to the area (which was badly needed)having lived in this area for 20yrs with its fair share of bad press, I hope this lovely area continues to thrive and I hope I also can get involved with the market.

  2. Sorry to say that the shopping experience in Woodgrange Road is dreary. I only shop in the local butchers, co-op and fishmonger. The betting shops and chicken shops are a real let down and various grocers all sell the same stuff. Thank goodness for the lovely new coffee shops.


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