Food Festival Director Looks Back on Her Life, 1980s to Present


  • Pauline Milligan, 35, the Director of Streatham Food Festival and a keen swimmer, has lived almost her whole life in Streatham

Q: How long have you lived or did you live in Streatham?

I’ve lived in Streatham for the best part of 30 years, first moving here in 1983 when I was 4 years old. I was away for a few years at university in Liverpool (although I came back to work during the holidays), I also lived in a flat-share in Balham briefly and I spent three years in Tulse Hill before moving to my current home, back in Streatham. Aside from university, I’ve never gone very far!

Q:  Why did you move to Streatham?

My parents both grew up in Clapham Park in the 50s and 60s; at that time, Streatham was considered ‘posh’. They had my three elder siblings in London but then moved to Ireland for a work opportunity (my dad was also born there and had family in Galway and Dublin). My younger brother and I were born in Ireland, and then after a few years my parents decided to move back. They looked in Clapham and Streatham as they knew the areas and had strong family ties (by this time my mum’s parents had moved to Streatham while my dad’s parents were still in Clapham Park), and soon after bought our family home in the area.

Q: Whereabouts have you lived in Streatham?

I grew up on Copley Park in one of the beautiful semi-detached houses up there – large enough for a family of seven. I was very fortunate to have Streatham Common and the Rookery as my childhood playgrounds.

After university, I spent a year renting one of the flats on the corner of Hopton Road and Streatham Common North, and later a year in a very lovely flat on Downton Avenue. My poor parents had to put up with me moving home to Copley Park between flats; when they sold the family home six years ago (moving just down the road to Norbury) my mum was very pleased to tell me that their new house was just for them!

I now live on Leigham Avenue in one of the 1930s mansion blocks; the art deco stained glass windows are so beautiful. However, my husband and I are in the process of buying a flat on Leigham Court Road, all being well we’ll be moving in the next few weeks. We feel this is our last chance to buy in Streatham; the prices have gone crazy, so we’re really hoping it doesn’t fall through.

Q: How many years have you lived there?

I’ve lived in our flat on Leigham Avenue for around 3 years; my husband has been here for 10 or 11.

Q: Do you have memories of your life in Streatham?

Most of my childhood memories relate to school, swimming club and Streatham Common.

I went to St Andrew’s RC primary school on Polworth Road from age seven (I was at St Bernadette’s in Clapham Park before that); my first teacher was the current head, Mrs Assid. I remember our school musicals: playing the Sultan of Morocco in Dick Whittington; singing solo in Joseph and His Technicolour Dreamcoat; forgetting my part as a shepherd in the nativity. The musicals were always pretty amazing.

I remember climbing trees on the Common; two friends and I would go high, high up – until we lost the fearlessness of youth. We named them all, inspired by Enid Blyton stories – we had our very own Faraway Tree, the Lightening Tree, and the Umbrella Tree. We would find random objects that had been left on the Common and create our own stories from them, convinced they were clues from a murder scene, or something similar.

I then went to Bishop Thomas Grant (BTG) secondary, near the top of the Common. I remember how big it felt on first arriving, with over 1,000 pupils from all over south London. I did very well at school (I was Head Girl in my final year) and had lots of friends, but I was a troubled teen so my memories are also tinged with sadness. I would often retreat to the Rookery to escape or find peace; it was also the place we would go after school on long summer days, hanging out in the long grass at the top of the tennis court field. I also remember sledging down that field through thick snow as a child.

The other important part of my childhood in Streatham was the swimming club. I joined at nine years old and swam there until I was about 15 or 16. Swimming was, and still is, very important to me, and many of my fondest memories are of the club.

We trained at Streatham pool on Tuesday and Friday nights; we’d do extra sessions at St Joseph’s or Crystal Palace at other times in the week, and most Saturday evenings were taken up with galas, either at Streatham or one of the other pools in south London. We were very competitive and I was proud to hold a number of swimming records for several years, although a brilliant young swimmer who came up behind me eventually took most of them.

As competitive as we were, the club was as much about the social aspects as the swimming. We had Christmas discos, annual awards, rambling expeditions and a regular summer party at a cricket club, somewhere out near Hampton Court, I think. There was always something going on and it was always fun.

I can remember standing outside Streatham pool on more than one Saturday afternoon when I was about 12 or 13 years old (over 20 years ago now), gathering names on a petition to stop the closure of the pool. Tesco’s eventually got their way but I like to think we held them off for a while. At least the beautiful stained glass fish from the old ceiling form part of the new pool; it makes me happy to see them when I swim at the leisure centre.

Q: Did you work in Streatham, and if so, what can you tell us about it?

From a young age I was earning money washing cars, doing a paper-round and then babysitting for several local families. As soon as I could, I got a Saturday job at the big Sainsbury’s store by the Common – I remember starting there a couple of days after my 16th birthday. Despite the monotony of working on the checkouts and later the cigarette kiosk, it was actually a lot of fun. I met some of my best friends there and we still reminisce about it: flirting with the ‘produce boys’; making plans for our Saturday nights out; sneaking out the back to scoff a pastry or some sweets; occasionally working the nightshift to save up enough money to go on a girls’ holiday to Majorca or Cyprus.

A few years later, I worked at The Waterfront at the bottom of the Common. I started doing bar shifts and helping to make pizzas in the kitchen, and I went on to become General Manager when the previous manager left. The hours were pretty crazy and it was very bad for my health, but I learnt a lot and made strong connections with the local community.

Almost ten years later, I’ve returned to working in Streatham. I now run Streatham Food Festival and work on various other local projects. It makes me very happy to be working as part of the community; we have such a great mix of people living in the area, and an incredible variety of local restaurants and food shops. I think the biggest challenge is how to support the development of the area to make it an even better place to live, while making sure that it doesn’t become exclusive – although it is going that way. The fact that Streatham is completely unpretentious is one of its greatest strengths, I’d hate for us to lose that.

Q: Do you have any memories of transport in Streatham?

I tend to have lived much of my life within walking distance of where I grew up (school, the swimming pool, the Common, Sainsbury’s, The Waterfront) and I don’t remember using transport very much as a child, other than getting the bus to Croydon, to go shopping with friends.

I do remember when I was about four years old, shortly after we moved here, my older siblings and I went to see a film at The Odeon together. After the film, we waited for the bus at the stop just outside the cinema. In those days, all buses were route-masters and I can remember my sisters getting on and the horrible bus conductor ringing the bell so the bus moved off before my brother and I could join them. My brother was older than me and able to run fast enough to catch it up; however, I was left stranded on the High Road. I think I sobbed on the pavement until a kind family stopped and offered to help; they had children in the car so I thought I could trust them. Fortunately, I knew my address and they were able to take me home, but I think we all had a bit of a scare that day.

Q:  Do you have memories of shopping in Streatham?

I hate to be totally predictable, but my main childhood shopping memory is of Pratt’s. I remember going there with my mum and picking out key rings in the toy section (I had a bit of a collection for a while). My mum still loves John Lewis stores, as do I. Funnily enough, my husband now works for them as a photographer.

I vaguely remember a cheap fashion store on the high road, roughly where the Card Factory is now, where I would go to buy clothes with my sister and friends. And a shoe shop that was next to the old ABC cinema.

I also remember an amazing Greek bakery that was located on the corner of Arragon Gardens or Glencairn Road. We used to buy loaves of freshly baked koulouri bread every Saturday; it would never make it home in one piece!

Q: Do you remember attending any particular events in Streatham?

I can remember the annual fireworks display on the common; school fetes at St Andrew’s (a friend and I got locked in the school building after hours one year and had to escape via the fire exit); swimming club events; school performances. There wasn’t the programme of public events we have now with the Arts Festival, Food Festival, Kite Day and Peace Festival – at least, not as far as I remember.

I think it’s brilliant that we have so much happening now. It all helps to connect people in the community, to create a feeling of pride in the area, to celebrate the fantastic place in which we all live.

Q:  Have you ever met or have stories about any famous residents of Streatham?

I used to work as Artist Liaison at the overseas aid agency, Cafod. I was always on the look-out for potential celebrities to support our work and one day my granddad mentioned to my mum that an actor had spoken at his church, English Martyrs, that Sunday (my grandparents lived on Gracefield Gardens from 1978 until they passed away in the 2000s). I did a bit of research and discovered that it was David Harewood. I contacted him about a new campaign we were launching about the damaging effects of gold mining on poor communities; there was a good link with the film Blood Diamond, in which he had recently acted. He came on board as a supporter and generated some good press coverage of the campaign. I left Cafod soon after but he has gone on to support other campaigns as well as travelling to Kenya to see the work of Cafod’s partners first-hand.

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