I moved to London when I was 19 to study textiles at Goldsmiths College. I couldn’t wait to get out of the cultural desert I grew up in, sandwiched between Portsmouth and Southampton. Once I’d got to London, I was a crazy student: I’d get up at 6.30am and stay in the studio till 8.30 in the evening. I have quite a strong work ethic!
I came to Soho for the first time in 1994, with a fellow student from Sweden. One of her friends worked behind the bar in the Coach & Horses pub, and I remember getting drunk with hairdressers, journalists and interesting-looking folk – and being shouted at by the landlord for nursing my pint! I quickly realised that you have to stand up for yourself. When I moved to Soho in 2000, it was the first place I had ever felt at home.
‘I wanted to show that the residents of Soho have stories to tell’
Then I joined The Soho Society because they needed an administrator. The society aims to preserve the spirit of the area. I became part of the planning group, and got involved in some of the campaigns. When it comes to disputes that occur here, residents are central – they live and breathe it every day.
We tried really hard to keep old traditions alive too, like bringing back the Waiters’ Race for the annual fete. Dozens of waiters race around Soho while trying to balance a full tray, with a glass, an ashtray and a bottle of champagne on it.
Soho is changing a great deal. A few years ago, the rate of the change became phenomenal, with some really substantial building developments. But there’s no point complaining about Starbucks and then… getting coffee from Starbucks. It’s important to support places that preserve the area’s independent spirit.
Soho is often featured in films or on television, but a lot of that is focused on ‘important’ figures with cultural significance – often those people didn’t live here. I wanted to show that the residents of Soho have stories to tell. I began documenting the stories of ordinary people for my podcast ‘Soho Then’, speaking to everyone from market stall owners to older people who go to the lunch club at St Anne’s.
‘There’s a massive misconception that nobody lives here’
I interviewed a man who part-owned an Italian delicatessen on Old Compton Street and the Piccadilly Restaurant on Great Windmill Street, which closed in 2016 after 55 years. He was a quiet man, and he’d never wanted to tell his story before. He came to London in 1961 without a word of English, getting the train from Italy and the boat to Dover. He hopped on a train to Victoria and an Italian man brought him here. While I was editing the podcast, I found out he’d passed away. I’d captured a unique story – it hadn’t died with the man.
There’s a massive misconception that nobody lives here. People say to me all the time, ‘You live in Soho? Nobody lives in Soho!’ That’s not the case. There really is a community here.
Clare Lynch's podcast ‘Soho Then’ features in ‘Shot in Soho’ at The Photographers’ Gallery until Feb 9 2020.
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