VOICES OF LEWISHAM
“It hasn’t been easy but I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect and try to take the positives out of it”.
Pamela Duncan-Williams set up Uncle C’s Food and Juice bar in November 2019 with business partner Darwin Favourite, after she lost her entrepreneurial father Charles Kofi Duncan-Williams. The summer months should have been bustling, but COVID-19 put a stop to that – and left them even struggling to give away free samples.
“I am a busy mother of two, I run a business and work part-time for the NHS. Business and management have been a big part of my life since I was 19. I have carried on the legacy of my father, the late Charles Kofi Duncan-Williams. He was a well-known figure in Lewisham. He had a mini cab office called Chaly's Minicabs (which is now Uncle C's Food and Juicebar) as well as Flex's barber shop in New Cross, and Tina's mini market in Deptford market.
“I gave up my career in management to focus on Uncle C's after losing my father. He always encouraged me to do something with the space in his absence. I was thinking of opening a restaurant but a friend introduced me to Darwin, who has over 10 years’ experience in business and was researching his idea for a juice bar.
“Like me, Darwin’s biggest motivation is his family and his thirst to be successful for them – to build something that is everlasting for them. We both want the younger generation in our families to know anything is possible when they put their minds to it. We both also want to teach young people generally how to be successful in business.
“We started the business a year ago when it was freezing cold so we were looking forward to the summer period. Summertime should have been the peak for our business but COVID-19 knocked us out beforehand. We only got to experience the last few weeks of summer, so we could only imagine what it would’ve been like if COVID-19 wasn’t around. Opening the business up in July felt like starting again because we’d only been open a few months before going into lockdown. It hasn’t been easy but I’ve had a lot of time to think and reflect and try to take the positives out of it.
Whilst the shop was closed and the children weren’t in school I was able to enjoy a lot more quality time with them. I would usually be working in the shop all day and working for the NHS in the evening so having more time to focus on the children was a positive. I do think that more support should be available for single parents in terms of social bubbles, it was very difficult during the first lockdown when I had no other adults to interact with.
“I was very nervous returning to work in the shop after the lockdown period ended back in July. I was worried about coming into contact with other people who might pass on the virus. I felt anxious for my children and my mother so returning to work was a very difficult decision to make, but I need the business to survive so I can continue supporting my family. My mum had COVID-19 and she was unwell for 8 weeks. She has sickle cell and is on the vulnerable list so I couldn’t visit her, all I could do was support her through the letterbox. It was very difficult watching her suffer. Thankfully she is fully recovered now and we did get through it, but I still worry about my family.
“Since COVID-19 there’s been less footfall because a lot more people are cautious about being outdoors and going into shops. When we first started the business we used to go outside the shop and give out samples, but due to COVID-19 people are very wary when it comes to taking samples now. We have had to rely on delivery platforms such as Just Eat and Deliveroo as not many people are coming out of their house to collect from the shop. The business has been very quiet since COVID-19 began and I am now in a position where financially I might not make it through December. I’ve felt a lot more anxious and emotional during lockdown 2, but I will continue to fight to support my children.
“The council’s support during the first lockdown and the business grants have been much appreciated. However, I found applying for business grants during the second lockdown more difficult. The timing of the announcements from the Government has made it harder to get through this period. In general I don’t think there is enough information and support available to someone thinking of starting a business.
“On Friday 30 October we worked with local businesses to prepare 70 free lunch boxes, which we gave to local families in support of #nochildgoeshungry. Having children ourselves, to be able to give back to others is a no brainer, it felt amazing to help families from the local community. I made all the food from our current menu in store. We included healthy nutritious and vegan options for the children to teach them about healthy eating.
“We had also arranged to go into St Augustine's primary school in Catford, to teach the children how to make a smoothie or juice to highlight the health benefits of fruits and vegetables. This was unfortunately put on hold due to COVID-19, but we hope to go there as soon as possible. This is something we would like to offer all local schools at a reasonable rate. It is so important to educate children from a young age about diet and healthy eating.
“My dream is to open several Uncle C's juice bars across the borough. Once they are all self-run, I would like to complete a master’s degree in education psychology and then support children during adolescence, as this is the time they begin to form their identity towards adulthood and is the best time to intervene and provide support. If it wasn't for my education psychologist Leroy from Bonus Pastors RC School I wouldn't be where I am today. He truly supported and inspired me!”
Pamela spoke to us in November 2020.