Covid tales from a south London park bench – photograph essay | Artwork and design

Timothy, 1 August.

Jim Grover: Along with Mount Pond on Clapham Widespread there’s a 24-hour, 365-days-a-year snack wagon known as Sincere Tom’s. It has been there for 30 years and was owned and operated by Tom, who handed away final yr. In his reminiscence, a bench has been erected close by, with an inscription plaque and a flower vase which Nadine, who has labored in Sincere Tom’s for 27 years, fills with recent flowers every week.

It was, intentionally, a random course of. Whoever sat down on “Tom’s bench” grew to become my topic for the day. In the future I needed to wait for 3 hours. One other day, regardless of going twice, nobody sat on it, so the empty bench grew to become my mute topic.

August had some usually British variations in local weather, together with a heatwave and heavy rain. The photographs additionally convey the passage of time: the weekly new flowers that wilted and died, and the inexperienced that peppered the scorched grass as rain swept in on the finish of the month.

The guests’ experiences of Covid cowl the compete spectrum. Their tales are like many we learn and listen to about, however are made very actual as we see the faces behind the phrases. Yvonne’s extremely transferring story, on the final day of the undertaking, places all of the others into context.

Timothy, 1 August.



Timothy first got here to Sincere Tom’s in Could, when he began working for Lambeth council on Clapham Widespread on the weekends. Throughout the week he works for himself as a painter and decorator in Sydenham. He’s of Jamaican heritage.

“It didn’t actually hassle me … I take sure issues to forestall getting it … It’s a part of my tradition. So I lived my life usually … It’s destiny. I do know one lady that caught the virus … she continues to be alive … I go to her and assist her out a bit.”

Dave, 2 August.



Dave owns Dave’s Paws, a dog-walking, cat-feeding and pet-sitting enterprise. He has been coming to Sincere Tom’s for six years becaue it’s on his every day dog-walking route. Immediately he’s strolling Luna.

“Our enterprise has taken a large hit. We misplaced a couple of canines the place shoppers misplaced their companies … though we’re nonetheless strolling their canines without spending a dime. All our cat enterprise went out of the window as a result of, clearly, nobody goes away and leaving their cats.”

Penelope, Rebecca and Jamie, 3 August.



Three generations wait for his or her lunch on Tom’s bench: Penelope, her daughter Rebecca, Rebecca’s accomplice Jamie, who’s a director of a meals elements enterprise, and their son Max. Jamie found Sincere Tom’s a month in the past, they usually now come on a regular basis, usually for lunch. They speak about how Covid has altered their every day lives.

Rebecca: “Solely not going to child teams.”
Jamie: “Solely when it comes to work and dealing from residence … which has its ups and downs. I wouldn’t be capable to be right here immediately, I’d be in an workplace in Wapping.”

Emin and his friend Paul, 5 August.



Emin (left) and his good friend Paul. Sincere Tom’s is an enormous a part of Emin’s life. He’s been coming for about 20 years and usually comes a number of occasions a day, generally together with his spouse Sheila, to satisfy and chat together with his many associates. Paul has been coming for at the very least 30 years. He was born round right here and used to carry his canines.

Emin: “This place was closed for seven weeks … so I missed the folks up right here. Aside from that, it wasn’t too unhealthy. I had Sheila to maintain me firm. I do know a few individuals who received in poor health, however they got here by way of all of it proper.”

Paul: “My mom died again in February. I went to her bungalow in Suffolk and received grounded there for 5 weeks. I couldn’t get a coach again. I received badly in poor health there … it was horrible. In the long run I panicked and managed to get a minicab firm to carry me again to London for some huge cash … after which straight to the medical doctors … nevertheless it wasn’t Covid.”

Victor and Harvey, 6 August.



Victor (left) has been coming for just some weeks. Harvey has been coming for a yr or two. He’s {an electrical} engineer however generally helps his good friend with meals deliveries. They’re a part of a bunch of motorbiker associates who meet most days at Sincere Tom’s. A few of them use it as a base, glued to their cell phones, as they watch for courier jobs to bid for from the likes of Deliveroo and Uber Eats.

Victor: “I saved on working proper by way of … doing deliveries for Uber Eats. I work on daily basis. I used to be advantageous.”

Harvey: “I saved on doing the every day issues in life, however there hasn’t been sufficient part-time work for me as {an electrical} engineer.”

Matt, August 7th



Matt has been coming a couple of times per week for about three years. He’s an electrician.

“Covid put the corporate I work for utterly out of enterprise. I’m self-employed, they usually advised us to sit down at residence till additional discover … they’re nonetheless shut down immediately. I had no revenue and needed to discover different technique of employment. I’ve received some work now, when you can name it work, for my uncle … it’s nonetheless cash, nevertheless it’s not what I used to be incomes earlier than.”

Mark and Stephen, August 9th



Mark and Stephen are brothers. They’ve been coming for about 20 years however have been regulars for the previous 4. They arrive each Sunday to have lunch collectively. Stephen travels all the way in which in from Beckenham.

Mark: “I don’t exit as a lot … just for the fundamental stuff, meals and train, however I’ve been in a position to maintain working in grounds and gardens as a gardener.”

Stephen: “It was difficult for us in the course of the lockdown … it’s all the time been essential for us to have the ability to meet within the open regularly. When Sincere Tom’s closed I realised that Covid was extra severe than I’d first thought. I don’t bear in mind it being closed in all of the years I’ve been coming to the frequent. When it comes to work, it hasn’t actually had an influence on me. I haven’t been furloughed … I work for the federal government. I used to work at home a couple of days, now I’m working from residence full-time. My guess is that they’ll be requesting us to return earlier than the top of the yr … so long as circumstances allow.”

Pedro and Rico, August 10th



Pedro (left) and Rico are additionally bikers. Pedro has been coming for about three months, attracted by the vibe and his biker associates. He additionally generally fishes within the pond in entrance of the bench for carp. Rico has been coming for 3 or 4 weeks, attracted by the meals at Sincere Tom’s and the bikes.

Pedro: I work in development … I labored by way of it, portray and adorning … enterprise is okay.”

Rico: “I’ve been preserving busy … I work in development … I’m self-employed. I want I used to be a courier rider.”

Michael, 11 August.



Michael has been coming for about 10 years. He’s ex-army and lives in a flat in Balham supplied by the ex-services housing affiliation. His son is a health care provider. Now he does a little bit of movie additional work – “there’s not many roles for anti-tank gunners spherical right here until you resolve to develop into a mercenary.” – performs classical guitar – “it retains me alive – and has just lately been studying some 17th-century poetry – “which will probably be good for a pint within the pub.

To be fairly sincere I by no means anticipated to be nonetheless right here with all of the worry round … completely exaggerated. However contact wooden, I’ve survived. I’ve saved some huge cash … there’s more cash in my financial institution accounts … and it makes you realise the way you fritter it away. There’s a vibrant lining to each darkish cloud … there’s one thing to be discovered from every little thing.”

Holly, 13 August.



Holly is Tom’s granddaughter. Her dad, Simon, now owns and runs Sincere Tom’s, the place Holly works the afternoon shift. She began work in January, a couple of weeks earlier than Tom’s was compelled to close in March, the primary time it has been closed in its 30-year historical past. She can be a graphic artist.

“With Tom’s being closed I used to be out of labor for 10 weeks. It was a stunning vacation (she laughs barely sheepishly). I spent all my time within the countryside … on daily basis I used to be occurring lengthy walks within the fields, and though I wasn’t getting paid I nonetheless had assist round me. Everybody else appeared to be working more durable … my accomplice (a police officer) was working a lot more durable.”

Zoe, August 15th



That is the primary time Zoe has sat on Tom’s bench. She involves the frequent most days however stopped right here immediately for a break having simply taken up operating. Zoe is an NHS hospital speech therapist and works in psychological well being and forensics.

“I received caught in Australia and sadly contracted the virus there. I went for a vacation for two weeks … however ended up there for 2 and a half months. It was fairly exhausting getting again… The airfares have been costly, they usually saved cancelling the flights, which occurred to me … it was so unlucky. However my work was good over right here, I work for the NHS. I’m advantageous now … I’m one of many fortunate ones. Work is busy.”

August 16th



Nadine (proper) has labored at Sincere Tom’s for nearly 27 years. She works the morning shift Tuesdays to Fridays and is available in from Croydon. She is right here immediately to cowl workers vacation. Susanne comes each Wednesday, attracted by “the stunning meals, the completely beautiful womenat Sincere Tom’s and the chance to provide her canine a sausage.

Susanne: “I’ve COPD [a lung disease] and needed to keep locked in for two months on my own with my canine … it was horrible. I didn’t communicate to anyone, I didn’t see none of my youngsters, my grandkids. It was miserable, terrible, as a result of I prefer to get out. I couldn’t wait to get again out … I didn’t really feel anxious in any respect. Now I do something … I spent the evening with my grandkids final evening … I childsat and sorted them and cuddled up with them in mattress. Somebody died in my household of Covid … she was disabled and had a variety of points.”

Nadine: “It stopped me working with Tom’s being shut. However I loved being off … being indoors, getting issues executed, simply me and Den [Nadine’s husband]. It was exhausting not with the ability to see my youngsters and grandkids … however you’ve received FaceTime and all that know-how now. Aside from that, I fairly loved it. I’m by no means off sick … I simply have my holidays … and it was good to have an extended break. It’s exhausting being in your ft for six hours every day at my age.”

Michele, August 17th



That is Michele’s first time at Sincere Tom’s. He stumbled throughout it whereas strolling on the frequent together with his younger daughter. Michele is initially from the north of Italy, the place Covid hit exhausting. He has been right here for greater than 15 years, and he’s an analyst programmer.

We’ve got all been constrained so it’s been robust for everybody from a social and a psychological well being standpoint. We maintain balanced … however it’s essential make an effort … so it’s not straightforward. We’ve been OK, so we’re very fortunate. I’m working from residence. I had the chance to work at home earlier than some days per week, and to avoid wasting cash and the commute, however I by no means favored it. Possibly it’s as a result of I’m Italian. I prefer to work together. It’s a unique rhythm … I suppose we’ll should get used to it. We went again to see my dad and mom in Italy a few weeks in the past. It was robust. They wish to contact you … and also you’re afraid of giving them something.”

Martin and Maria, 23 August.



Martin and Maria are associates. Martin has been coming to Sincere Tom’s for 20 years and knew Tom. Maria has solely been coming for six months, however now comes a few occasions per week. She likes the peace and quiet to gather her ideas. She’s at present not working due to well being points however was beforehand a NHS receptionist. Martin is a carpenter, though he’s not doing a lot in the intervening time, having just lately misplaced his spouse to most cancers.

Martin: [Covid is affecting me] extra now on the finish, with all of the uncertainty. It didn’t have an effect on me immediately, thank goodness.”

Maria: It’s all of the uncertainty and the unlawful raves occurring on the frequent. I’m fearful about that … we have been right here late final evening at 10 o’clock and there have been two raves occurring. There was no social distancing … the police had nobody to ship.

Freddie, Rob, and Te Keepa, 24 August.



The tree over the bench gives some shelter for Freddie, Rob and Te Keepa because the rain begins to fall. They’re about to return to high school for his or her last GCSE yr. They’ve been to Sincere Tom’s a couple of occasions earlier than.

It’s been alright … staying indoors … not going out … working has been a bit more durable.”

Junior and Emin, 25 August.



Junior (left) has been coming to Sincere Tom’s for greater than ten years. He comes from Bromley on his bike as usually as he can, primarily to satisfy up together with his good friend Emin. Junior ran his personal automobile physique restore enterprise for 27 years earlier than being injured in an accident which has left him with long-term sickness. Emin shared his story on 5 August.

Junior: I’m making an attempt to watch out … every little thing has been advantageous.”

Margaret and Tony, 26 August.



That is Margaret’s first time on Tom’s bench. She has come together with Tony, who’s an everyday and comes on his bike from Stockwell two or 3 times per week. They’re associates and members of the identical organisation for folks “of a sure age.

Margaret: “I don’t fear about it. I’m 81 … I haven’t received time to fret about it. I don’t really feel alone, however I’m lacking the Proms.”

Tony: “It’s exhausting. I reside alone … so I really feel a bit remoted. I often go to Sweden in the summertime to see an excellent good friend for a few weeks … I’ve missed that this yr. It’s been robust.”

Tony and Michaela, 27 August.



Tony and Michaela began to come back to Sincere Tom’s six months in the past, to satisfy up with associates. They each now come nearly on daily basis. Tony does bike deliveries for a vegan restaurant. Michaela is learning engineering at college and simply received a primary in her pre-return exams.

Tony: “I received saved in lockdown, like everybody else, and was out of labor … I’m again at work now. It’s not like regular life. You’re below management … like whenever you’re youthful and also you’re below management by your dad and mom. I’ve missed my freedom … I don’t prefer it.”

Michaela: “College stopped for a bit … however I didn’t thoughts.”

Tony, 28 August.



Tony is an area black-cab driver. He’s come for breakfast after an evening shift. He can bear in mind Tom opening 30 years in the past and has been an everyday for the previous 15 years or so, stopping to seize a cup of tea or a chunk to eat. He now comes most days if he’s working, attracted by an honest cup of tea and the sense of neighborhood among the many regulars. He’s made many associates up right here, and he generally helps out in Sincere Tom’s.

It’s been horrible … the work has utterly gone. I’m self-employed … the federal government cash has helped out lots. The enterprise continues to be as unhealthy now … the work hasn’t picked up in any respect.”

Angler, 29 August.



No room on the bench. Anglers.

Theresa and William , 30 August.



Theresa and William took pity on me, having heard that I had been ready for 3 hours for somebody to sit down on the bench. By now it was early night and the sunshine was fading quick. That is Theresa’s second time at Sincere Tom’s. William has been coming for about 20 years. He comes each morning at about half previous 5 to get a cup of espresso on his option to work as an air-con engineer.

Theresa: “I used to be within the journey trade, in gross sales … I misplaced my job. I had simply moved to London in January for the job, and now it’s gone sadly. They put me on furlough. They have been excellent to us and tell us each week, they usually nonetheless contact base with us … so it was a pleasant layoff. However they lastly let me and lots of people go as a consequence of Covid.”

William: “On a private stage it hasn’t affected me in any manner. As a upkeep engineer … I’ve labored proper the way in which by way of as a key employee. I’ve been fortunate when so many haven’t.”

Yvonne, August 31st



The ultimate chapter on this month-long undertaking is an extremely transferring encounter with Yvonne, whose experiences put all of the others’ into context. Yvonne has been coming to Sincere Tom’s for “donkey’s years, together with when Tom was engaged on his personal in a a lot smaller wagon. She comes two or 3 times per week as she lives shut by. A beaming smile illuminates Yvonne’s face as she proudly tells me she is a “nice grannie”.

My husband died. He collapsed at residence and it took a few hours for the ambulance to come back. We managed to get him to St George’s … they usually saved him in there. He simply couldn’t stroll … he was in there a few weeks after which he caught this virus there and he died. And my two daughters and I, we couldn’t see him … no contact … we couldn’t even say goodbye He died to start with of April, and we couldn’t bury him till Could. And now I’m by myself. It was a nightmare. It’s nonetheless a nightmare.”

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