Francis Road: Meet the women putting Leyton on the map

20 November 2018

Waltham Forest is a borough coming into its own. Not only does it enjoy the status of being London’s first Borough of Culture, it has also won Mayoral funding to improve the local environment under the Healthy Streets Initiative.

And Francis Road, formerly traffic-clogged, now epitomises the borough’s inspirational ethos.

The newly pedestrianised street is home to an ever-growing number of independent shops: a tattoo parlour, a book store, an art gallery-cum-gift shop, a vintage clothes store, restaurants, an organic food store and a pub, the Northcote.

All have the distinction of being run by women, making it one of the highest concentrations of female business owners in London, if not the UK. Very #BehindEveryGreatCity.

Natalie Stopford, founder of Marmelo Kitchen restaurant, on the street’s female DNA:

“We’re definitely conscious of ourselves as a network of businesswomen. We try to meet every few months to have dinner and catch up. There’s a lot of encouragement towards newcomers who are thinking of setting up shop. And yes, more and more women are joining us.”

Those women include Aimee Madill, founder of Phlox Books, who set up shop on Francis Road last year after working at Shakespeare and Co in Paris, described by Madill as “one of the most successful independent bookshops in the world”.

Aimee’s aim was to bring something of Shakespeare and Co’s bohemian culture to Francis Road. And it seems to be working:

“There’s lots of young families, creative freelancers and of course, readers. It always feels like there’s something going on here. I love looking through the windows on a sunny evening watching people outside sipping a drink, reading, chatting – just enjoying life. I love it here.”

Another newcomer to the street is Steph Laban, founder of tattoo studio, Last Call Ink. Steph decorated her shop to resemble a Victorian interior “so you could feel like you were in the comfort of your own home whilst getting your tattoo.” The best thing about trading on Francis Road, according to Steph, is its community spirit: “like no other place in London.”

Tuesday Roberts who’s been running the local pub, the Northcote Arms agrees. “A lot has changed since I bought the pub in late 2014. Our efforts to reach out to other local communities have paid off. It’s now a safe space for everyone and a great place to make new friends.”

Many of the new (female-run) businesses point to the area’s environmental improvements as being central to the success of the street. Tiff Howick, co-founder of gift and homeware store Venner, is a champion of the borough’s green courier service, an initiative that grew out of the Mayor’s Air Quality Fund.  

“ZED, the zero emissions delivery service, provide us with a great service bringing our stock from our local suppliers across Waltham Forest. They are a great friendly local team, who really care about their customers and the environment.”

Similarly, the pedestrianisation of Francis Road is proving to be popular with many.

Ella Lennard who opened a vintage fashion store in the last few months, attributes the area’s calm atmosphere to the lack of traffic. 

“It's very quiet with no car noise or pollution. It’s great for our customers because people can take their time to look around and do their shopping in a tranquil space.” 

And finally, Sonia, of health food store Wild and Fresh Organics, sums up the transformation that has taken place in the space of a couple of years:

“Two years ago, there wasn’t anywhere on the street to go for a meal or a drink and many of the shops were boarded up. There’s a real buzz about the place now. We’re one happy family”.

Long may Francis Road and its communitarian, environmental and feminist credentials thrive. Or should that be Frances Road?

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