Counter Culture – background

Forest Gate and Woolwich
March 2021
P & P News by Sylvie Belbouab

About this record

Welcome to Frame of Mind’s new film making and participation project “Counter Culture” featuring the stories from three corner shops in Newham.

Corner shops are ubiquitous, everyone living in an urban environment has a relationship with a corner shop.  They are a convenient way to buy daily basics and emergency items, but they also provide a social hub and community focus.  They make a village of a city.  Everyone has a corner shop experience, a story to tell, from childhood or adulthood.

Since the 1960s and in the face of racial exclusion and lack of other job opportunities, migrants to Newham from all over the world have chosen the corner shop as a means of running their own independent business.

From a unique elevated view behind the shop counter, the shop keeper sees all our transactions.  This symbiotic relationship between customer and corner shop has an important role to play in tolerance and acceptance, understanding and respect in our communities.   How does this two way relationship between community and corner shop operate for mutual advantage?

The corner shop is a kind of leveller – a shared trust.

It brings people together, and there’s no discrimination between class or race or gender in a place like that, whereas with supermarkets you might say there’s a distinction between the type of shopper you have at Waitrose or Boots or Sainsburys (Babita Sharma, The Corner Shop)

The role of the corner shop has changed dramatically over the years reflecting changing retail and socio – economic habits. Initially found on the corners of Newham’s terraced workers houses, coming into their element during WWII, with the social policing of rationing & food vouchers, fighting off the threat of supermarkets since the late 50’s and then recently coming into their own again during the Covid pandemic.

The corner shop is the beetle of the retail world. Its resilience is due to the intuitive skills and social-entrepreneurship of its owners to adapt to the changing needs of their community. They are unique microcosms of the communities they ‘serve’ with a Tardis of multifarious contents that reflect the tastes and demands of the local demographic.

Each corner shop is an independent business carving out its own identity. Their independence allows them to operate with minimum accountability and respond to the changing needs of their community, it is what makes them unique and their stories worth preserving.

We worked collaboratively with shop owners and their communities and trained a small team of volunteer Heritage Producers with digital media and research skills to help us collect stories, and produce heritage material.

Counter Culture is a potentially vast project but we have chosen to feature three very different corner shops in Newham:

P&P News, Forest Lane E15 

Caner Supermarket, Forest Gate E7 

Cromwell Stores, North Woolwich E16


It has been very challenging filming in very small spaces during the Covid pandemic lockdown in early 2021.  There is constant footfall, door bells and loud fridges so during filming the shop owners and customers showed great patience.

Many thanks also to our heritage producers and volunteers; Kulthum Abdul-Aziz, Sylvie Belbouab, Hajia Dahira, Larissa De Filippo, Mark Gorman, Uzma Gulbahar, Gabi Mandelli, Lucy Sabia.

Scroll to the side to discover the beautiful photography of Sylvie Belbouab who documented Counter Culture for Frames of Mind.

Additional record details

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1 - 31 May 2021