“My world would fall apart”

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Rose is the proprietor of Rose’s Kitchen on 8 Clifton Rise, New Cross. I have often eaten food from Rose’s Kitchen. I’m in New Cross a lot and as I appreciate good and healthy food, Rose’s Kitchen is the best place to go. I remember the first time I walked in – I was glued to the food counter admiring the tasty-looking, home-made dishes, wanting to try it all. What a difference from all the chicken shops and other take-away food! The portions are huge, the price is good and the food tastes amazing. And each time you walk in, you are served by the same three people and it’s not long until they remember you. When I walk in, just after lunch time, Karlene (one employee) is serving three customers and Rose is in the back preparing for the next day.

Before Rose set up her shop 10 years ago, she had been cooking with someone else in a restaurant, and it was there that she fell in love with cooking. “I love cooking and I decided to follow my dream”, she says with a big smile on her face. In 2008, she set up Rose’s Kitchen and now she has 2 employees working for her.

DSC_1962Rose in Rose’s Kitchen

“When I first came here, there was not a lot going, there wasn’t a lot of business because people didn’t know me. But when they came and got to know me and the food, they started to enjoy my cooking. I now have customers not only in London but people who come a long way as well: from Kent, Croydon, Birmingham and even Kingston. Yes, people who come to London from Kingston come into my shop to get food. And people who used to live and eat here but have moved away, for example Birmingham, and come back to anywhere near here, they come back and buy large quantities to put in the fridge.” When I ask Rose how she got so many customers, especially from so far away, she says: “It’s all word-of-mouth; through good and healthy food, and good relationships with customers. I have never done any advertising.”

The food is a mix of English and Caribbean food and caters for different tastes. All the time I’m sitting in Rose’s Kitchen, talking to Rose and photographing, there is a constant coming and going of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. “We have all kinds of customers”, Rose states, “Chinese, White, everybody, and of course people of Caribbean heritage because it gives them authentic food from home.”

Rose’s Kitchen does the catering for Deptford Green School prom and the Black History Month. It also provides lunch time specials and offers £2 school meals during term time for pupils from Deptford Green and Childeric Primary. Also many Goldsmiths students come down for lunch time specials. Rose seems to have a very special relationship with the local kids, wanting to make sure they have the opportunity to get a fresh, healthy meal. “Sometimes parents don’t have the time to cook and give their children healthy meals; sometimes kids don’t even have lunch money but I give them food anyway. And parents often come in to thank me with presents.”

I ask Rose to tell me a memorable story and she told me that “there was a student from Goldsmiths who came in regularly and on the day of his graduation his mother came in with a bunch of flowers and said: ‘thank you for feeding my son your healthy food. I cannot cook very well and my son doesn’t like my food. I wish I could have provided him with the food you did but I couldn’t. My son speaks about you all the time and sometimes I even feel upset because he speaks of you as if you were his mum. I thought I have to meet this lady, I want to know who this Rose is and today I want to thank you for being so kind to him’”.

Talking to Rose it strikes me just how important her work is to her and to the local, and larger community. Rose’s Kitchen is not just a shop or a food joint with social interaction a mere exchange of food and capital; it is a social space, an intricate network of social contacts formed through food that reaches much wider than just the stomach or the local area. “We are like a family here. Even if people have moved away but come back to visit, they come in. People see me as a family member, like a mum or a gran and for me, my customers are like my children”, Rose explains.

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When I ask Rose about the planned demolition of the shops on Clifton Rise, her facial expression becomes more sombre. “I could never lose this place! I don’t want to lose my customers. I look forward to going to work every day. Sometimes I wake up tired in the morning but when I come here I don’t remember that I was tired. If you can have a laugh at work, it is so important. I would like the shop to remain the same.” The same can be said for her customers, most of whom have signed the petition to stop the demolition of Clifton Rise (the figure of signatures from just her shop is in the hundreds). “If the shop were to close, for my customers it would be like losing their mum or gran, and it would deprive many local kids of fresh and healthy food. It’s like taking candy away from a baby.”

Rose feels that the small businesses on Clifton Rise are not being treated well by the council. “We’ve had no information, nothing’s been offered, and we don’t get compensated for anything. When we try to call we just get passed on from person to person – you’re never able to speak to anyone. The regeneration here is terrible, it’s just about making more money. They are demolishing small businesses like us who have no chance, who can’t afford the prices they are charging. Everything is sold to private people with money. They are not going to want us here.” I ask Rose what message she would like to pass on to the council and she replies with: “If you break us up, it’s like you are destroying a home!”

As I sit there listening to this, I become incredibly sad. It is another story of somebody who has contributed to and built up strong relationships with the local community; somebody who has invested a lot of positive energy into creating a thriving business that serves the local area not only with affordable, fresh and healthy food but also with important personal connections that have developed into long-lasting friendships. For me, Rose is a real pillar of the community and her displacement would be a tragic loss to the area. It is another story of dispossession and displacement, of communities being destroyed to be replaced by luxury developments for private gain; a story of an uncertain future, of having to start all over again.

I ask Rose whether she has thought about what she is going to do if demolition goes ahead. She shakes her head, visibly upset by this prospect. “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know any other job; I only know cooking.” But it isn’t just about the shop itself, or her love for cooking, it is about much more than that. “My whole world would fall apart”, Rose exclaims, “I don’t know anything else.”

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After our conversation, Rose goes back into the kitchen to carry on preparing for tomorrow. Karlene is busy cutting onions and serving the customers that keep coming in: kids, Goldsmiths students, a young local lad of Caribbean heritage, an elderly gentleman…

DSC_1978Karlene serving customers
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