Mary French

Alright, we’re recording now, Mary.
So, erm… what…? I just wanted to talk to you about your time working at the hairdresser’s in the Swan Centre.
Er, when, when did you first start working there?
Erm… good question. It was… I s, first started working in the salon in… ‘95? No, ‘97, sorry, ‘97.
So it’s about twenty years ago.
And what was it like at the time? What was the Swan Centre like then?
Swan Centre then was quite bustling. It was starting to go… down, erm, quite dramatically because prior to working at the salon, I’d worked on a couple of the clothes stalls and bag shop. And the… I remember particularly, the bag shop, in the lead-up to the children going back to school, you just couldn’t keep enough stock… in the shop. And then… like, by around about this time… in ‘97, erm, you just couldn’t even make a day’s rent ‘cause it was really going down, erm, for that type of trade. But then, as I said, I got the job in the salon. Erm –
What…? What, what, what do you think changed in the, erm… in, in the first stall, what, what made the, er…?
There just wasn’t the footfall coming into the market anymore. The footfall just wasn’t there. Erm –
D’you, d’you know why, were there other shops opening, doing similar things or…?
I think, myself, it was the repetitiveness and… of the stock within the market. You had your regulars, who would come in for Kelly’s Delis [ph], for instance, or Les Richards [ph] D, erm, baking counter. You had your regulars who came into the salon erm, and your regulars that came into Classy Rags. But trying to get new footfall… erm, was difficult. I think it was … teenagers growing up, they wanted designer labels, they didn’t want market stall.
Right. Mm.
That’s what I think but I don’t know.
So when, when did you start working in the other stalls, was that in the nineties?
So two years you spent and you saw that dramatic change over those two years.
Yeah, yeah. But even then, I mean people knew the writing’s on the wall for the market then ‘cause I remember the first time I started in there, erm, people saying, ‘Oh, we’ll be closed by Christmas’. That was common [makes tutting noise], the common consensus, ‘We’ll be closed by Christmas’. But, in actual fact, it went on for… I think we left there in [Pause] 2008… yeah, 2008.
So it was a good thirteen or fourteen years…
Yeah. And so how long after the market had closed down was it that, that you worked there, closed down and re-opened?
I didn’t.
So –
Oh no, hang on, am I getting my da, I’m getting my dates wrong, aren’t I? I’m just trying to think, hang on. Jamie was… he was born in 1990. This is how, I just have to think, think back on things. Jamie was born in 1990, Jamie was six so it was ‘96 when I first started in there. And then in two-thousand-and … four, we moved out on to the main Coventry Road… and yeah, we were there, out there for four years… and then Tesco’s were doing the re-development and I’ve been mobile now for ten years, so.
OK. So can I just go back to the earlier days again.
‘cause I understand that at some point, I’m not sure about the timescale, that the market had to close because it got burnt down. How long after it re-opened, or when did it re-open and when did you start working there?
Erm… I don’t actually know when it closed down. I know I, first went up there in about ‘94, that was my first time to go anywhere near the Swan. And it had, been re-opened then because my husband’s uncle had moved into Bakeman House and we thought it was fantastic because we thought it’d be a wonderful place to take him down to do his shopping. Everything looked really nice and it was lovely. Erm…
And that was the first time –
That was the first time.
– you’d never, you’d never gone there before?
No, never even, never even knew it existed before then.
And then, erm, when I actually started working there, it was a, it was great little place, there was great cama, camaraderie amongst the, erm, stall-holders. Everybody knew everybody. Erm, you know, you had your bakery, you had your chippie, you had your little restaurants, you had some good little, little r, eateries down the bottom. Erm, some nice kid’s clothes stalls around there. Erm, it was just a shame, I think the main thing was, it was the, all the talk of the re-developments and people were constantly on about, oh, Sainsbury’s were going to re-develop over the road and the market would close but, or there’d be a link, the market refurbished’. And… obviously, it just never happened, then, you know.
When, when did that, s, that talk start?
That talk started, oh, from day one, I’d say, ‘9-, ‘96, I was hearing that, you know. But it was always being put off and then Tesco, ‘cause the Sainsbury thing was very much on the cards, apparently. And then Tesco came into the mix and then it all went …completely the other way and then, obviously, Tesco won, the bid… and… closed it all down for the re-development.
So what was the feeling, d’you think, about it?
Oh, there was lots of anger, huge anger towards erm Tesco. Yeah, because a lot of people didn’t want to leave.
You know, even though it was hard, and it was hard to make the rent. Erm, but lots of people felt that, erm, Tesco were the cause of everything. You know, it was all Tesco’s fault.
They’d taken over their livelihoods, yeah.
Yeah. And it was all Tesco’s fault.
And erm, there was, and there was a hell of a lot of resentment towards Tesco.
And how do you think that it changed from ‘96 to 2004, was it, that you moved out?
Yeah, we moved out onto the Coventry Road then. Erm [Pause] yeah.
So what, what, what changes did you see over those eight years or so?
It was getting …more run-down. Erm… stalls were closing, they weren’t being re-let ‘cause people just didn’t, erm… the rents, the rents weren’t exactly high… they were, because it was an all-inclusive rent. You had your heating, your electricity and all of that included. Erm, but, if you weren’t making the money, it didn’t matter whether it was ten pound a week, if you weren’t taking it, you couldn’t afford it.
You know, because you had to have a wage and you had to buy your stock and whatever. And it was just gradually getting harder and harder for people… to make that living.
And… and that, that was the universal feeling amongst all the stall-holders?.
That was the universal feeling. You know, everybody was feeling the same, everybody was feeling the pinch.
So what, what d’you think they would’ve wanted to have happened, rather than Tesco’s taking over?
Erm, well, the common consensus was to refurbish the whole thing.
And, if they refurbished it, erm, everything would be fine. But it didn’t …
But you don’t know that, do you?
No, it didn’t…
No, it never, it never transpired. I don’t think, I mean, like, the common consensus was that it never really recovered after the fire.
Mm, mm.
Because it’s like a lot of things, erm, where there’s been anything like that happen. They close down for the refurbishment and then people have found, erm, new places to shop and they just don’t go back anymore.
D’you know how long it was closed for, after the fire?
I don’t.
No, I don’t.
But pretty much from, that time, d’you think, until it closed, there was always talk about it closing?
Yeah, there was always references back to the fire. Erm… and, you know, ‘Before the fire, it was this’, and, ‘Before the fire, it was that’, and, ‘This hasn’t happened since the fire’. You know, ‘People haven’t come back’. And… it was, it was a shame, really.
And, and in terms of your clients, when you moved over to the salon, erm… so you, you, you were, you were in the other stalls for a year or so, were you?
And when did you start in the salon?
In… ‘97, I think it was.
Yeah, it was around about ‘97.
And did, did you see a difference in people that you were seeing there, or…?
No, because, erm… I used to, the salon was directly opposite the bag shop.
And, um, I’d spoken to the owner on many occasions in the past and she knew I was a, qualified stylist. So, erm, when the bag shop was closing down, she just said to me, ‘How d’you fancy doing a couple a days a week for me?’ And I said, ‘Yeah… OK’, bearing in mind I wasn’t bringing a client list with me, which was, you know, quite good, really, considering. And, erm… that salon was really busy, you know, and… I gradually built up my own client list but they had regulars coming in. And another stylist left so I basically took over her clients and, fortunately for me, they were happy with what I did and then built up my own client list. And, erm, but we were always busy, erm… well, ninety percent of the time. But it was nothing to do with footfall or takings that we left there, we just wanted to expand.
And the people that, y, your clients, were they all local people?
Yeah, yeah, very much so. Yeah, all, basically, erm, Yardley, Sheldon, erm, that type of thing.
And you took them with you when you moved to the new salon?
W, and where was the new salon?
It was the old Army Careers Office that was on the Coventry Road, just by the, erm, underpass.
And w, was there a difference, then, when you moved on, in terms of your client group or…?
Mm, no because we… obviously, we had more footfall because there was general passer-bys up and down to the bus stops and the Post Office and things like that and so we were more visible, erm, on the main road than we had been in the market. But, erm… no, I mean, on the whole… we always kept our clientele. We always kept, kept the clients and, obviously, you know, it’s a thing of… bums on seats, money in the till, you know.
And did you, did you see many changes in, in the clients or just in the general area or…? I mean what, what changes would you –
Oh, the general area, everything changed. It just became… more, erm… the market became more, sort of, neglected and derelict. Erm, stalls were closing down left, right and centre.
I remember it like that, yeah, I remember it like that.
Shops outside were closing down.
People were getting, particularly the shops on the outside of the market, people were getting very… erm… unsettled and worried because they basically weren’t making the rents. And, erm, then, I think, Celebration Caterers went, then the… erm… florist went, then the travel agents went. Erm… the clothes shop went. The ex-catalogue shop went [chuckling].
Erm… GDS was one of the few to hang on ‘til the end, as were Warnley’s [ph], the furniture store. Erm… the greengrocer’s stuck it out to the very end.
So these were all shops in, in, in the precinct, rather than in the market.
In the precinct, rather than the market, yeah.
Yeah, yeah.
And the market was just… it was, it was sad, really, you know, it was really, really sad.
‘cause it used to be a bit of a flagship around here, hadn’t it, at one point, the Swan Shopping Centre?
At one point, yeah, but I, again, I think that was pre-fire.
Mm, mm.
Because from, as I said, from day one when I walked in, it was always talk of closing.
So would the fire have affected the rest of the shops in the precinct rather than just the market? Erm, had it got a knock-on effect on the rest of the precinct?
I don’t know because I wasn’t around at that point. Erm, but I would imagine so because I would’ve imagined that people who were going up to the market, erm, would just go into the butcher’s or the café there and erm… I mean at one point, it was a really… even post-fire, it was really bustling, it was, it… then they just, I think, just all the uncertainty and… as, like older customers were dying off and younger people were coming into the area, like everywhere, you know, it, erm… they weren’t interested in markets, as such. It just… then, in the meantime, you had, like, Stechford Repa, Retail Park open.
Mm, mm. So there’s more competition.
There’s more competition and every time you turned round there’s more places, like Asda opened down the road, so there was… more places for people to go and, like everywhere, the more shops there are, the less…
Did, did you see in your client base, the change in demograph, or did you have, at, at, at the shop, as well as the market stall, did you have your same consistent clients, or did you see that changing with, with the different, with the changes in the population of Yardley?
No, because… most of ours, I’ve still got some of them today, you know, ten years later.
Mm, mm.
Erm… no, there… we were very fortunate in that, that we managed. They weren’t… old enough to die [chuckling], I suppose [laughing]. And then, erm…
Did you pick up many of the newer people coming in?
Yeah, yeah, we did, yeah, we did. And, erm, like I say, because it was on the main thoroughfare, erm, between… the job centre and the bus stop, erm… yeah, we did, you know. We’d get a lot more people just passing and then, and plus we’d expanded into, erm… we had a nail bar and beauty and plus we had sunbeds as well so we were catering for the younger clientele.
And what sort of things did your clientele used to talk to you about? Did they tell you much about the local area, about where they were from, about their stories?
Mm… not really, no.
No, no. Erm… the area, the only thing that people really talked about. about, regarding the area was how it was going down and the number of people who got mugged in the underpasses and on the bridge and… erm… it never felt. safe.
Particularly at night round there, you just… didn’t, once, particularly the winter nights, you just didn’t, erm… feel safe.
Mm. Was that around where the subways are or, or the area…?
It’s just the whole area.
The whole area in general.
Mhm. Yeah, I mean, the s, the subway, I have never, and to this day, I never have and never will, I’ve never gone under that subway… erm… with a purse. Or a handbag. You know, I’ve just never done that because I’m terrified because there’s just no way out, you’re, you’re trapped. And, erm, numerous people were being robbed, Farmfoods was constantly being robbed, erm…[tut] and it could be a very dark place at night.
Was, was Farmfoods based in the precinct then cause it’s –
No, Farmfoods…
-‘ over the road now, isn’t it?
Yeah, yeah, it was based in the precinct, erm… basically, at the top. Erm… but n, it was, erm… it could be a very scary place, you know, ‘cause, erm… you used to come out the shop at night and the area you went round to, out to on the back, was very dark.
And me personally, I mean, putting the bolts in the shutters and that, I could never get them in quick enough because… it was… you know, anybody could pop out from anywhere because there were no lighting. It was just pitch black out there, there was just no lights.
And would you have used the multi-storey car park? I remember that being there.
Erm… no. I used to, when we had, when we were in the, erm, market. But at this point, when we were out on the main road, erm, no, because it would’ve meant I’d have to walk… erm… I’d have to come out the back… and then go right round in a completely black area. And when I say black, I mean black dark.
Yeah. Pitch black.
Erm… yeah.
Erm… because the lighting, as I said, the lighting round there was really poor and erm… no, there was nothing on God’s green earth would’ve enticed me to walk round there [chuckling].
Yeah, no, I remember [20:07 seeing], it is…
No, no.
I thought it was a bit creepy, to be honest, back there.
Yeah, it was very creepy back there. I mean, I came out one night, erm, and I was in the market and the whole side of my car, somebody had gone into it. Because there were some parking spaces round the back there.
And I was in one of them and somebody had gone into my car ‘cause it was so dark, you just couldn’t see. And, it was, erm… yeah, it was… I used to love the light nights. It was the only time…
One, one of the things that has, erm… come across about, you know, conversations with people about Yardley, is that, erm, it’s an area that people… aspire to, you know, you kind of move on to Yardley. Did you see that… reflected in the people that you worked with?
Erm, no, no… people I worked with aspired more towards Solihull, erm… no… no, I didn’t really, s, mm… it was more aspirations to get to Solihull and Sheldon, as opposed to Yardley.
From Yardley to there.
But, but would you have had people moving to Yardley from other areas, so you saw it as an aspirational move?
Erm… yeah, I mean quite a lot of people, in the time I was around there, yeah, they did move into, quite a lot of people moved in… there’s a, there’s a big turnover in the area. You know, you could see that from the amount of houses around the area that were up f, to let and stuff like that. Erm… yeah, it’s… it’s a popular area. You know, I think… some people… think Yardley is, erm… a really, really nice area and some people think it’s not so nice. But it’s like, all areas have got their nice parts and their, shabbier parts and, you know, is there any perfect area?
No, no.
You know, so…
No, there isn’t, is there?
Erm, it’s…
Did, did you see an increase in the buy-to-lets around here?
Oh god, yeah.
Yeah , ‘cause that’s been a general thing, hasn’t it?
Yeah. And just driving in and around Harvey Road every day, the number of hou, ninety percent of those houses on that road now are …bought to let.
Yeah, yeah. I think quite a few of them on this road are.
Yeah, it was quite, erm, quite an eye-opener ‘cause any house that went up for sale, after, shortly after it was sold, seemed to have a ‘to let’ sign at the front. You know, it was, erm… you, and you’d hear anybody looking for a house, you’d say, ‘Oh, there’s loads around there’, ‘There’s loads around there’, [chuckling]. You know, that was the sort of…
But you know, so that obviously there’s been a big population growth and there’s been, a big influx of, erm, different nationalities… in the area. Erm… a lot of the Eastern Europeans, as well, around the area now and… erm…
Were, were there many people of… wa, was there an ethnic mix, working in the market?
There’s all, the, the market traders were pred [Pause] I was nearly going to say predominantly then. There was quite a lot of, erm, Asian… erm, traders. But then there were quite a lot of white traders as well. So… but there was… never any animosity amongst anybody. It was, everybody very much lived and let lived, everybody was friends. You know, there was no… erm… dis, discourse there between anybody, it was just…
Everybody just got on.
Everybody got on.
Yeah. You know, everybody doing the same thing, everybody was trying to make a living.
And how d’you find the difference now, going into the Swan Centre as it is now, with Tesco’s and the, erm, development that’s been built, the shops and cafés?
[Chuckling], I actually surprised myself on this because I er, I was one of the people who said, ‘Ph[ph] Bloody Tesco’s, I’ll, you know, I’ll never shop in Tesco’. But I have to admit, [whispering] I shop in Tesco’s more than anywhere.
And I quite like it over there.
I actually like it, yeah.
I do, I do actually like it and… I just wish there were a few more outlets…
… in there. I think it’s not utilised enough, I think it could be an absolutely fantastic shopping area –
‘cause the –
– if all the units were let, inside and out, I think it could be an absolutely booming place.
And there, there are some market stalls there now, as well, aren’t there?
Yeah, in the con, on the concourse, yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Mm, they’re more of a, they’re, they’re more novelty. But then, I mean, like the, the barber shop… I would never in a million years have thought, that a barber’s would do as well as they do there. And they’re constantly booming.
The same with the eyebrow place, you know.
I mean, I thought, when that first opened, ‘Gosh, you know, ph[ph] you’re a braver woman than me’.
There’s always queues there, isn’t there?
But, you know, it’s absolutely booming.
Yeah, yeah. Yeah, yeah.
You know, and good luck to the lady. And again, erm, both… the eyebrows are, it’s an ethnic lady who’s got that, and most of the barbers in the other one are, there’s Chinese, there’s white, there’s Asian, you know. And, again, everybody gets on.
Yeah, yeah.
You know, and… there’s no problems. But it’s, erm… but it’s much cleaner now and it’s, erm… it’s brighter. And it’s… excuse me. It’s, erm, yeah, I like it in there now.
I didn’t… didn’t think I would, but I do.
And in terms of you, your, your mobile work now, how long have you been doing that?
Ten years.
And do you, you still see a lot of your old clients who live in Yardley?
Yeah, mhmm.
And do they talk about the changes that they’ve seen and…?
They, tend to… in varying different ways, yeah. You know, nobody really, everybody is the common consensus, ‘Oh, it’s a shame the market’s gone’.
And… I’ve heard that statement for so many, years and for so many times and I tend to say to people, ‘Well, if you were gonna miss it that much, why didn’t you use it when it was there?’
You know, the same people that miss it, were people, who, never used it or would just come into the salon, have their hair done and go straight out again.
And complain that the market was run-down.
And… yeah. And they didn’t bother to look around to see if they… could get a bargain or stop for a cup of coffee with a friend and have a chat. A lot of people do miss it, though… A lot of people to this day, still say they miss the market. Particularly, I mean, amongst, like a lot of my clients, they do say that they missed it. And a lot of them used to come in and they’d go to the greengrocer’s, they’d have a walk around. ‘cause for some people, it was a little –
Trip out.
– community. And it was a, it was a, you know, you always, you could always bump into somebody in there that you knew, and you could always stop and have a chat with somebody.
You know, you still had customer service, for a start… that you don’t get in the, from the big boys.
D’you think some of that community feeling is starting to come back into the new Swan Centre?
[Draws breath] From what I’ve seen myself, erm, particularly, and I’m not… you know, just blowing Tesco’s horn for the sake of blowing it. But I’ve found, like… people I know, say, for argument’s sake, from Bakeman House, who’ve had health issues and problems and all that, and bearing in mind, I’ve known these people for years because they were in and out ‘cause they were there then. And, erm, I’ve seen the way the staff deal with them and I have to say, you have to commend them, because they have time to chat and they… well, they make time to chat… or they appear to be giving that person their attention and… you know. I mean, I know several people in there, who’d kind of go to staff and tell them, ‘Oh, it’s my birthday today’, and all the rest of it and they make a fuss of them. Or their husband’s gone into hospital and they go and tell them because they’ve got nobody else to tell. And there is, yeah, there is that kind of cam, camaraderie around there, because –
And, and it’s the, the, the eating areas as well, I think that –
Yeah, and you do get a lot, again, of, the Bakeman House people, particularly [chuckling].
Erm, they…they sort of, tend to g… er, get together there and, erm, they have their chats and their arguments and their… little, you can always see them, just sat on the, few chairs just outside the pound shop there and they’re, erm…
Yeah, they’re having a –
Having their little social thing, yeah.
Yeah, their little social gathering.
Be interesting to see how it all evolves, won’t it?
Yeah, it will be. It’s erm… it’s, nothing stays the same, does it?
You know, it’s… I never thought it’d be, as, erm, bustling in there as it is. So… it is… I think it’s good for the community. Yeah.
OK. Well, thank you –
Now. I didn’t think that ten years ago but I do now, [laughing].
[Laughing], OK. Erm, yeah, well, thanks for that.
[26:36 OK]
D’you wanna just state your name and, er, I think I need your date of birth for the-
Oh my God.
Or just, just your year of birth for the, er, tape.
OK. Er, Mary French, 1958.
Thank you, Mary.
[End of Track]


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