This week Chiara introduces us to another Egham High Street story from a local resident and business owner. This week’s story comes from Eggham on Toast.
When I first visited Eggham on Toast it was to inform about the Museum’s temporary exhibition that was displayed at the United Church. I tried to reach and inform as many people as possible so I just came in and gave them a leaflet. When a couple of weeks later I went back to grab a drink, the café was quiet, I sat at a table just next to the counter and I started to chat with the waitress and the cook, who turned out to be the owner too. I asked him if he had the chance to come and see Our Changing High Streets exhibition at the Church, and when he answered that he had not time I invited him to come and see it at the Museum. At that point, I proposed that he share with me his thoughts about Egham and he agreed to have a chat with me.
He arrived in the afternoon, after closing his café, at the Museum with his son. I was happy to show him the Museum’s collection and the temporary exhibition, and it was nice to see his lively young boy enjoying the Bronze Age mini archaeological dig. We then chose a quiet place to sit and talk. He told me that he comes from Bolivia, so I shared my memories with him about my trip to his country, and he then shared with me his thoughts about Egham:
“We arrived here 4 years ago. We had a good impression of Egham, so we decided to live and work in this small town. The place where now is my bar had been for more than 10 years a traditional English breakfast cafe bar called “Mario’s Lunch Box”. He then retired and sold his business. It was a very big building, but then they divided it to make two business spaces, one where there is now the barber, and the other we bought it for my bar. I think that before then it used to be a proper house, a Victorian style house.
I’m very happy to have chosen Egham, I don’t regret my choice. It is near London and the airport, there is a good social life. We are very happy here especially for my son, in fact this is a good place to raise a child, with good schools and good quality education, and it’s safe too. I think it still keeps an English identity, there is a very English social life. It’s very well served with services, and it’s also a very green area too, with many parks.
The students stay here just temporarily, just the time of their courses, so there is always new people around. They don’t really take part of the identity of English society. I feel too the difference when the university is open or when it is closed. Almost every business here can feel it, most of all bars and restaurants, and we can see if the students are here or on holiday.
More or less we all know each other. I met lots of people here. I made also new friends and have regular customers. We have a few pictures of the old Egham from the 50’s on our walls, and some old clients who have been residents for long time use to say “there used to be this or that here before.., this was like this and that before…” For example, one of my customer, an old lady, always tells me that when she was 18, to go to London, she used to take a train, and the journey was very long with some changes too. Very often my customers just pop in to eat or have a coffee and we start to chat.
Here is different than having a café in central London where it is so multicultural that you can’t perceive a proper English culture. Here people are still attached to English traditions, the pub in the afternoon, the fish and chips….At school for example, my son is a minority because 70% are English, while in London he wouldn’t be. Even our neighbours are mostly English. But at the same time I understand when English people sometimes complain that it is not good like it was before, because sometimes foreign people don’t integrate enough and this can create problems.
I don’t think that the presence of students is getting Egham worse. There are not just the students but lots of local people as well. And this is what the whole England is now. Students stay the length of their course and then they go back to their countries, and I think it’s good for the local economy because they bring money to spend on the local businesses here. Yeah, students sometimes get drunk, and make noise, but this doesn’t really damage the area, in fact it is not dangerous. Egham is very safe, they also even removed the police station from here. There is no crime.
My employees are a Nepali girl and an English boy. We are one Asian, one European and one South American. They are very easy-going and our working environment is fantastic. Sometimes after work we also go to the pub together or to the restaurant. We have a very good relation and friendship and we learn from each other”.
Follow us next week for the next story from Egham High Street….
(Header photograph: aerial view of the High Street, with thanks to the late local photographer, Fred Parkin)