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Owner Vincent Ayre explains how making pastries runs in the family

WORDS Zoe Whitfield PHOTO Lima Charlie

At two o’clock in the morning, when most residents of Nunhead are fast asleep, staff on the first shift at Ayres the Bakers are putting on their aprons, grabbing their rolling pins and setting to work.

The team of seven full-time and two part-time bakers produces around 2,000 buns, cakes, doughnuts and pastries every week, ranging from gingerbread men and frog cakes to strawberry tarts and hazelnut butter shortbread.

But according to owner Vincent Ayre, it’s the sausage rolls that remain the bestseller. “Everybody across the board buys those,” he says. “It’s the exact same recipe I remember making back in 1979 – it hasn’t changed in the slightest.”

What has evolved in recent years is the public’s perception of bakeries, which Vincent puts down to the popularity of television shows like The Great British Bake Off.

“People suddenly realised that actually, it’s not as easy as it looks,” he says. “A lot goes into it, and a lot can happen between starting with the ingredients and ending up with the product in the shop.”

Ayres was opened by Vincent’s father John Frederick Ayre – known as Fred – in 1955, on Evelina Road. When he passed away 30 years later, Vincent took over the business with the help of his mother. His wife Frances joined in 1990.

“Prior to that my grandfather ran a chain of bakeries, as did my great-grandfather, my great-great grandfather and my great-great great grandfather,” says Vincent. “So I’m the sixth generation.”

For Nunhead residents – and those in nearby Peckham and Telegraph Hill – a job at Ayres has long been a rite of passage. “I think pretty much everyone has worked here at some point,” chuckles Vincent.

Employing local people and putting money back into the community through paying their wages is something he’s particularly proud of. Two members of staff here today began eight years ago as Saturday boys, he says.

“It’s a family business and it’s a local business, and because Frances and I are in the shop every day, we know the local people as well,” he adds. Many customers who visited as children now come in with their kids.

For Ayres, social media is increasingly important – and Vincent, who tweets from @ayres_the_baker – says it’s a good way to engage directly with customers. “Anybody who has an SE15 tag on their Twitter, I follow,” he says.

Twitter is also a way to discover new baking ideas. About 30 per cent of the business follows foodie trends such as the cronut – a half doughnut, half croissant invented in New York City – while the remaining 70 per cent focuses on old favourites.

Over the years, the bakery has supplied cakes for milestones in local people’s lives, including weddings, birthdays and anniversaries. As Peckham blogger The Skint Foodie put it: “Ayres is close to the heart of every Nunhead resident.”

From delivering Christmas presents to the elderly to organising get-togethers for people on her street, Wendy Rother is the lynchpin of her local area. She deserves a medal for her work in the community, say her neighbours


Photo by Lima Charlie 

Every local area needs a Wendy Rother. The 77-year-old founded the Astbury Road Area Residents’ Association (ARARA) in 1995, and has fostered a close-knit sense of community in her corner of east Peckham ever since.

She has worked tirelessly to help her neighbours resolve all sorts of issues, from a housing association tenant with a leaking roof that wasn’t fixed, to a man with problem builders who left his council house in a mess.

She produces a newsletter for her area, delivers Christmas presents and cards to elderly and disadvantaged residents, holds an annual garden competition with prizes, and organises street parties and get-togethers for neighbours to meet.

Caroline Platt, who lives nearby, says: “Wendy is an amazing woman, who does wonders in our community. She runs the residents’ association, applies for funding, takes on issues raised by local people and plans days out at Butlins for residents.

“She fights for the rights of her neighbours, delivers flyers, supplies and updates our local noticeboards, plans our annual street party and visits local residents in hospital. Our community is much warmer and richer because of Wendy. She is a star.”

Ross Rook, another local resident, adds: “Wendy works tirelessly and pretty much non-stop for the community. From organising street parties to helping residents repair their homes, there is no limit to Wendy’s kindness. 

“She continuously lobbies local authorities, including the council, to ensure that our neighbourhood is preserved but, more importantly, not forgotten or overlooked. Wendy is the angel of east Peckham.”

Wendy was born and brought up just off Lavender Hill in Battersea, and moved to Astbury Road in 1973. She and her husband Bill, a painter and decorator, have lived on the street ever since.

“When we first moved here in the 70s, it was very quiet,” she recalls.

“In this road there were only two cars, and ours was the third car on the street. But gradually the area got run-down, things got really bad.

“We had problems with drug dealers, and there was litter everywhere and fly-tipping. When things started to deteriorate, I was concerned. So I did a little flyer and post ed it round all the houses.

“It said, the area’s getting a bit run-down and we need to do something about it – and I think we should start by arranging a residents’ meeting. We picked a night when Coronation Street wasn’t on the telly and it all went from there.”

About eight years ago, Southwark Council received government funding to put towards regeneration projects. “You had to tell the council why your area should have money spent on it, so I did,” says Wendy.

“They whittled it down to about three areas, and Astbury Road was one of them. I had to go in and speak, and we got the money.” Residents paid a nominal sum for new railings, walls and gates on their houses. Bricks were cleaned and masonry painted.

Wendy coordinated the works, holding an exhibition in an empty shop and encouraging people to fill in questionnaires. The scheme was a real turning point for the area, and Wendy received an award for her contribution.

“It was better than winning the lottery really,” she says. “My nephew came to visit and when he turned into Astbury Road, he thought he was on the wrong street. It really brought the community together and got everybody talking.”

The council is now ploughing money into nearby Queen’s Road, refurbishing shop fronts with new signage and canopies. The station itself has also been improved, with a new lift and plaza that is now home to Blackbird Bakery.

“Seven or eight years ago we did a protest about the state of the station,” recalls Wendy. “It was filthy – men used it as a toilet, and there was graffiti. They had CCTV up, but nothing seemed to be done about it. So I’m pleased about the improvements.”

ARARA recently ran a survey asking Peckham residents what sort of shops they’d like to see on Queen’s Road. When Wendy moved in, there was a camera shop, an ironmongers and a bakers.

It is also asking people for their old photos and memories of the street, to support an application to the High Street Challenge in September. The council-run scheme off ers funding of up to £75,000 for projects that help the high street to thrive and grow.

The friendly atmosphere is the best thing about the Astbury Road area, says Wendy. “It’s a really nice community. I just love living here and I love the people. There’s a wonderful mix of residents – ‘multicultural’ doesn’t even begin to describe it.

“There’s a lot of people who have lived here for a very long time, and it’s nice to know they are still around. Nell and Joe, they moved here from Jamaica about eight or nine years before we did, and brought up their kids here.”

Wendy organises an annual summer street party, which she begins preparing for in March. Local company Glassbuild lets residents use their grounds and electricity, and this year Guidetti Fine Food donated some refreshments.

“Before this year’s party I kept looking at the weather forecast, I was worrying for days,” says Wendy. “In the morning it poured, and I got soaked as we were putting up the bunting. Then the sun came out and there it stayed – I couldn’t believe it.”

Residents presented Wendy with a bouquet at the event. “For me, that is my reward, that people recognise – and I don’t mean in a praising way – that there’s somebody who does these things for them. Also, looking at it selfishly, it keeps me young.

“I have people knocking on my door because they have a problem, which I always endeavour to deal with. I go to several council meetings every month – it’s the only way to fi nd out what’s going on for the residents.”

Wendy’s biggest supporter is her husband Bill, she says. “I couldn’t do it without Bill – he’s my rock. He does moan! He’ll say, ‘Oh, you’re not still on that computer are you?’ But as I say, I couldn’t do it without him – he really is amazing.”

The area has vastly improved in recent years, she says. “It hasn’t got a lot better, it’s got millions better. The only thing I’m disappointed about is the prices these houses are fetching now. What chance have young people got of getting on the housing ladder? They haven’t got a chance. I think it’s sad.”

ARARA, which meets at the Queen’s Road Day Centre once a month, has won many victories for the community – from helping neighbours tackle antisocial behaviour to persuading the council to install better street-lighting in the area.

What is Wendy’s biggest triumph? “I think the greatest victory we have had as a residents’ association is the cohesion,” she says.

“Fifteen years ago you’d walk down the road and nobody would say hello to you, and now they do.

“We’ve been a way of helping people to talk to each other, and encouraging them to get to know their neighbours and be a part of their community. It brings people together, you know? That, to me, is everything.”

Peckham resident Jess Thom was diagnosed with Tourette’s in her mid-20s, and says the word “biscuit” about 16,000 times a day. With her blog and upcoming stage show, she’s determined to break down stereotypes about the condition


Words: Emma Finamore Photo: Celia Topping

Blogger, writer, artist, performer, youth worker, Peckham resident and, not forgetting, part-time superhero, Jess Thom is in her ‘citizen disguise’ when we meet to discuss her speeding bullet of a project, Touretteshero. 

Jess has Tourette’s syndrome, which, for her, manifests itself as both vocal and physical tics. Although she says the word “biscuit” around 16,000 times a day, hedgehogs, cats and the F-word also pepper her speech (she is one of just 10 per cent of people with Tourette’s whose vocal tics can present as swear words), and at some points in our conversation, even Aladdin makes an appearance.

Jess also makes involuntary movements, mainly hitting her chest with her fist. She wears padded gloves (of which she has an array of styles, ranging from fluorescent pink to leopard print) to protect her knuckles, and currently uses a wheelchair, as at some points during the day she can lose control of her legs.

These tics may have intensified since Jess was diagnosed with Tourette’s in her mid-20s, but, as I discover during the course of our conversation, it is something she has transformed from problem to (super)power.

In 2010, Jess co-founded Touretteshero, a daily blog to record and celebrate the humour and spontaneity that can come out of Tourette’s. The blog has morphed into a project much bigger than Jess and her co-founders could have imagined, and in 2012 she published her first book – Welcome to BiscuitLand – with a foreword from Stephen Fry.

We meet a few days after Glastonbury weekend, where Jess performed seven shows as her alter-ego, the masked vigilante Touretteshero, whose mission it is to break down stereotypes and negativity about the condition, but above all else, make people laugh.

“We had a great response,” she recalls. “Me and Captain Hotknives, the singer/songwriter I performed with, met at a festival three years ago. He heard me ticcing and just started jamming along with me. He really knows how to work with the spontaneity of my tics. We ended up being booked for an impromptu show that weekend, and from that got invited to appear at Glasto.”

Captain Hotknives has bipolar disorder. “We celebrate neurodiversity and allow the unusual way our minds work to be positive and to be enjoyed onstage,” Jess says. “Some of it can be quite rude, and of course it’s spontaneous, no two shows will be the same. I am incapable of sticking to a script.”

No stranger to an audience – via stage or screen – Jess has some impressive stuff stashed under the belt of her supersuit – along with the smoke pellets, tranquiliser guns, nunchucks, and whatever else your average, self-respecting 21st century superhero carries these days.

She has appeared on ITV’s This Morning and BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, served a stint as a continuity announcer on Channel 4, been interviewed by Stephen Fry, taken up an artist’s residency at the South London Gallery on Peckham Road, and shared her experiences with 4,500 people at the Royal Albert Hall.

Keeping up the Touretteshero blog is a daily job, and Jess tries to record everything accurately to present Tourette’s as it really is. Even though writing every day is no small undertaking, she says that it’s cathartic and liberating to “communicate without interruption” from her tics.

Jess will also be appearing in her show, Backstage in BiscuitLand, at the Edinburgh Fringe this August, with puppeteer Jess Mabel Jones. Through storytelling, comedy and puppetry, Jess will offer her unique perspective on life, love and laughs. The show will transfer to London in September, appearing at the Southbank Centre and Battersea Arts Centre.

Even though Jess has always loved watching stage performance, it isn’t always an accommodating environment for someone who experiences tics. “I’ve even been told to watch from a separate space, away from the rest of the audience, before,” she says. Taking to the stage herself is a way of turning this sort of response on its head, as well as challenging the public’s often inaccurate idea of what Tourette’s actually is.

“Attitude change is achievable,” she says. “People say it takes ages but the response I had as a continuity announcer on Channel 4 was massive and instant. I was literally ‘sounding out’ difference, which doesn’t happen very often. Neuro-diversity is pretty absent from mainstream media, unless it’s being made an issue of.

“People were looking on the internet and tweeting about it – with the hashtag #biscuits – saying, ‘What just happened?’ Then they’d read a bit about me, and go, ‘Oh, cool’. They were having a conversation about Tourette’s, and it was trending for about 10 hours on Twitter.”

Originally from north London, Jess remembers having the sensation of tics as a young child, but that she could suppress the physical responses without others noticing, and continued to do so into her teenage years. “I couldn’t stay still for very long,” she remembers. “Even if I went out with friends I would have to keep moving from place to place, keep moving to keep from ticcing.”

Jess attended Camberwell College of Art in 1998 and has lived in and around Peckham and Camberwell ever since. She was diagnosed as having Tourette’s syndrome in her mid-20s, when her tics became more severe and started to impact on her life. She describes trying to suppress them as “like trying not to blink”.

She says that she feels safe and secure around here, helped by the fact that her care worker – Matthew – lives about 90 seconds away. She has a close group of friends nearby, and her sister lives just across the road.

It’s this support that helped her find her way to Touretteshero, accepting assistance with everyday practicalities in order to do the things she wants. She remembers a time when she was stuck in her old flat with a mezzanine level, unable to move from the downstairs room.

“I used to think that being independent meant doing everything for yourself, but the big thing I’ve realised is that it’s actually about being able to make decisions for yourself and being in control,” she says.

Being based in Peckham for so long means she has developed some favourite hang-outs. She talks about The Gowlett, remembering a time when the staff supported her during an episode of intense ticcing, which seems like a fit or seizure.

She also sings the praises of Peckham Pulse, where staff help her stay healthy: “They’ve been really great with my swimming, letting me do ‘crazy’ rule-breaking things like swim horizontally across the lanes, and it’s only 60p.”

Jess works full-time around her superhero hours, as a project coordinator at Oasis Children’s Venture in Stockwell. She clearly cares deeply about her work, and appreciates the openness with which most children approach Tourette’s. “Children just ask,” she says. “They’re not judgmental or awkward. When you tell them what Tourette’s is they just move onto the next thing.” 

Although adults don’t always deal with it so simply – “sometimes people can react negatively, Tourette’s can make others feel nervous and frightened, and that makes it even more important to talk about it” – Jess mainly talks about her positive experiences as someone with Tourette’s, and what she describes as “spontaneous support and shared laughter, every day.”

It’s with this mindset that she’s reclaiming the most frequently misunderstood syndrome on the planet. And in a flash, she’s gone. Off to change the world, one tic at a time. 

Check out Jess Thom’s blog at www.touretteshero.com


Dulwich Hamlet smashed their attendance record on Saturday for Non-League Day. Over 2800 people streamed through the turnstiles at Champion Hill to support the pink & blues. As ever, the Rabble (the affectionate term for Dulwich Hamlet’s Supporters) created a carnival atmosphere on the terraces. Indeed, the party started early last Saturday when local band the Relatives led a procession to the ground from Peckham Rye park.

It was a quiet first half on the pitch, although the same couldn’t be said for the bar where the bar was packed throughout the game. New and regular supporters certainly had an admirable thirst for the drinks on offer, including the real ale from local breweries that will be available at all Dulwich Hamlet home games this season. The game sparkled in the 2nd half when two excellent strikes from the Hamlet’s Ashley Carew were cancelled out by a penalty and a last minute equaliser for Hampton & Richmond. Overall, the day was a startling success. Over £6000 was raised for the Mayor of Southwark’s homeless charities and a little under £1000 for MND research as management and players participated in the ice bucket challenge.

The club hopes that many of the 2856 return to Champion Hill during the coming season. It might not be ‘pay what you want’ every game; but at £10 for adults, £4 for a variety of concessions and under 12s free, then it’s great value for an afternoon’s entertainment.

So why not head down to Champion Hill this Saturday 13 September (3pm KO) for 1st qualifying round of the FA Cup when Dulwich will be taking on Worthing FC. Both teams will be dreaming about a possible final appearance at Wembley, and with only needing to win 11 ties to make that a reality, then you never know. Watch out Chelsea!

Saturday will also be extra special, as Dulwich Hamlet will be backing the #RainbowLaces campaign. Last year, players from 52 football league clubs in Scotland and England laced up to show their support for gay players and supporters. This year, the Hamlet is getting in on the act, and will be the first non-League club to officially do so. The Rainbow Laces will also be available for fans to wear on Saturday. You will be able to pick a pair up at the 12th Man stand as you enter the ground, in exchange for a donation. The proceeds will be split 50:50 between the 12th Man scheme and the Gay Supporters Football Network.

So, get down to Champion Hill on Saturday, put on your Rainbow Laces, cheer on the pink and blues and make yourself known amongst the Rabble. Up the Hamlet!

Text: Duncan Hart

You can follow Duncan on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/pompeydunc