Thursday, 25 June 2015

Duke McKenzie Fitness Centre

I only recently discovered that we have a world champion boxer in our midst. And not just a one time winner either. Duke McKenzie has achieved what nobody else has, becoming world champion in three different weight categories. With such an impressive record, he had no shortage of offers to train professional boxers after his retirement from the ring, all of which he turned down, instead opening a gym, first in Croydon, and for the last four years, appropriately at Victory Place, right in the middle of the Triangle.
Coming from a sporting family, his brother Clinton was a boxer, and his uncle was a champion weightlifter, Duke had little idea what he wanted to do. He tried plumbing, and painting & decorating, most jobs usually ending with the sack. Meanwhile he had been doing some amateur boxing, but by his own admission, he was not much good. All that changed in 1982, when he met boxing promoter and manager, Mickey Duff. It was at a boxing event, where Duke had been encouraged by his brother and mentor, Dudley, to go and introduce himself, but he got short shrift from the boxing promoter, and it took 18 months of persistent "stalking", in Duke's words, for Mickey to be persuaded by the young man's tenacity, into taking him on. Three weeks later the 19 year old south Londoner, was lying by a pool in Las Vegas, at the start of an intense boxing tour around the States. Dudley, and coach, Colin Smith, instilled in him self belief, resulting in his meteoric rise to British, then European, and finally World Champion. Duke then received further recognition, adding an MBE to his haul of medals.
The boxing gym, as well as being a business, is clearly a means for Duke to give something back. From motivating those in need of direction, to instilling respect and self discipline in the young, the gym provides a friendly, unhostile space in which to train and get fit, to all ages and backgrounds. Currently the youngest of the 200 or so members is 9, and the oldest, Roger, whom I met, is 73. As Duke recalls, he has boxed in some incredibly hostile places, so he was determined his club would be different. The friendly atmosphere extends to members all being issued with nicknames by Duke. Roger is known as Santa Claus, and other members include, Don King, French Assassin, Kylie, Rocky, Moneypenny, Diana Ross, Mr. Fox, Terminator and Postman Pat.
Duke gets a real buzz from not only working with his clients in the ring, but is also passionate about talking  to people, finding out what makes them tick, and motivating them outside the ring too. As a result, he does a lot of work with MIND, the mental health charity, giving regular seminars and training to patients in conjunction with The Royal Bethlem Hospital in Beckenham. To Duke it's clear, the benefits that physical training and fitness have on mental wellbeing are huge.
The wellbeing of the large warehouse on Victory Place is another matter however. The prospect of redevelopment has been raised on several occasions, but Duke is determined to stay on the site as long as possible. 

Duke McKenzie

2B Victory Place

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

The Picture Palace

Before Glyn Peacock moved his gallery and picture framing business into no.65 Westow Street, the building had housed a printer's business, with a history going way back to the hay day of the Crystal Palace. Along with all the printing machinery and lead typesetting equipment lying idle in the shop when he moved in, Glyn also found a stash of old tickets to various events in the palace in the 1920s. It was about 25 years ago that he moved there from his previous shop where Way Ahead, hairdressers now resides. With a further 12 years or so there, that must make The Picture Palace, and Peacock Fine Art, which he runs in tandem, one of the oldest businesses on the Triangle. And alongside Glyn, his colleague, Mark Besswick has been at the business since doing some work experience a staggering 32 years ago.
And those years have seen tastes change hugely according to Glyn. They used to do a roaring trade in all sorts of antiquarian prints, but then in the 90s that all petered out with the fashion for modernism, minimalism, and all things Ikea. The framing side of the business is now the mainstay. Years ago there used to be another framer's on Church Road, and when he retired, Glyn sensibly bought up his stock. In this age of an economy dominated by services, and the internet, it's encouraging to find manufacturers thriving in our midst, but despite all the online competition, you still can't beat the personal service and care on offer from an old-fashioned shop. The business doesn't just rely on locals with one-off framing requirements, I was impressed to discover that The Picture Palace has framed whole exhibitions at the V&A, and more locally at Dulwich Picture Gallery, as well as being contracted to supply all the Met Police's framed commendation certificates. Among their more unusual commissions, were the framing of a pair of Lawrence Olivier's tights, and an Andy Warhol print purportedly worth £100,000. They even did some framing for comedian, Charlie Drake, who lived out his days on Farquhar Road. He was apparently a bit of a sculptor, and some of his pieces were sold at The Picture Palace.
In addition to pictures and framing, Glyn also sells a wide variety of furniture and knick-knacks found on far flung trips across Europe, from southern Spain to the Ukraine, and I was completely taken by surprise to discover that the gallery extends up the stairs to first, second, and third floor of the building. On and on it goes, with something for everyone. Among the nudes, and landscapes, there are pieces in midcentury and art deco style, but perhaps the oddest single item is the portrait of a certain, instantly recognisable soap star.
Through the ups and downs of the last thirty-something years, Glyn has seen plenty of changes on Westow Street, not least when most of the other side of the road was swept away to build the supermarket. Through most of that period, Crystal Palace has been described as "up and coming", but little was done to support that by the local authorities. For example, Croydon Council, which owned many of the commercial properties on the Triangle, only offered leases with a six month break clause, which discouraged anyone from investing in and refurbishing buildings. This no longer being the case, has helped the area to renew itself. The Picture Palace itself has recently made some changes too, opening up the ground floor and making it more inviting. Perhaps as a result of that, Glyn has noticed increasing numbers of younger clientele coming through his door, and they're even interested in buying prints again.

The back office and workshop

Mark's brother Dave, looks after the workshop, and does the mouldings and glass cutting.
Recently acquired prints from the Ukraine

Wood cutting workshop on the first floor

1920s tickets to events in the Crystal Palace

An even older local paper, also found in the former print shop when Glyn moved in.

Glyn Peacock & Mark Besswick

65 Westow Street
020 8771 1966