Way before I knew anything about the technical aspects of the medium, I started documenting everything and anything with my entry-level camera and a notebook. British Proud is the first photographic project I have ever made, back in 2017.

One day I decided to get on lots of random bus routes to look for something unique. I did not have to travel far as I was seeing so many things that intrigued me already after only a few stops away from home. There is lots of specialty shops in my area, which to me have a certain kind of charm. First of all because of the way they usually look, but also because of the type of customer service they offer. Their relationship and involvement with their local area is much more personal than big chain companies, mass brands and manufacturers. They are genuinely committed and care about the needs of the community. 

My main interest for these type of shops is also most likely due to the fact my dad has his own business too, and I have always really looked up to him for doing what he loves and turning it into his full-time job. I think people who run their own small-scaled business, in particular the ones in the specialist category, are very fascinating. You can tell their shops are almost like their homes. They spend so much time in there, the places radiate familiarity. Sometimes they decorate and personalise them, really turning it into their own little place.

I began compiling photographs and life stories of these local family businesses and specialty shop owners in the Black Country, Birmingham and the surrounding areas in the West Midlands of England. My aim was to capture an evoking image, bringing across a message along the lines of "This is my shop and my pride. Even though it might be small and local, I am still able to keep my business running and have been doing so for quite some time." 

Everyone has their own story to tell, contributing to society and our everyday lives in ways that more than often are not even acknowledged. With these images I would like to celebrate the local community, to put the local greengrocer or toy maker in the spotlight — the ones overlooked or under appreciated. Due to our current economic state, these type of shops and family businesses are under threat of having to close down, because the independent market and trade has to compete with bigger rivalry companies. Essentially, this project is not only a celebration, but also a way to raise awareness.

I first took over the shop 29 years ago in August 1987.

Tracing the shop’s history has taken me back as far as the 1920’s and I have photographic evidence of this which hangs proudly on the shop wall. I’m sure that the building dates back even further than this, but am unable to prove how far the butcher’s history goes back.

Before the two previous butcher’s that I succeeded, the shop was owned as a family business by Mr and Mrs Bonehill and to this day their two sons still own the building. The couple ran the business for many years. Mrs Bonehill passed away last year at the ripe old age of 100 years.

Taking over the business was a big leap for me to take, as I was leaving behind a very successful retailer and most importantly had a wife and two boys to support. Having lived in Quinton for many years and knowing Bearwood well, as my parents shopped there for many years (always on a Tuesday and Friday!), it felt the right move to take!

I knew that if I provided the public with an efficient service and good quality products I couldn't go far wrong. Just as the butcher’s before me had proved!

Over the years I’ve met some wonderful people, whom I consider to not just be customers, but also my friends. Their loyalty has forged a bond of community spirit which has meant that if someone is unusually absent from their usual routine, then between us somebody will call by and check on their wellbeing.

This is what makes Bearwood stand out from the rest; a good community spirit and people that will go the extra mile.

Long may this continue, I hope to keep going for a few more years... I like to think that there's life in the old dog yet, they do say ‘there's now as fit as a butcher’s dog!

- Paul South Family Butcher in Bearwood

‘Dancers Limited’ is a traditional family business which has been around for five generations. The shop was started in 1880 by my dad’s great grandfather John Dancer. In 1884 ‘Dancers’ expanded to a few other premises in the West Midlands, but was eventually narrowed down to one premises which is situated in my family’s hometown of Halesowen. 

Throughout the 20th Century, we started to expand from footwear into selling Menswear, Ladies Clothing and Accessories, and further providing School Uniforms for local schools. During the 1970’s ‘Dancers’ started the service of Men’s Suit Hire and happened to be one of the first stores within the country to start this trade. My father Michael Dancer manages the shop now and my sister Janet and I assist him.

- David Dancer, ‘Dancers’ in Halesowen

I opened up my shop about 15 years ago. It used to be very busy in this area in the 70’s and 80’s, but since the banks went down everything changed. It has been quite hard to run my business the past few years. 

I’m currently surrounded by curry houses and hairdressers. There isn’t a lot else to do in this area now, which is very painful to see actually.

- Melbyn Hall, ‘Em’s Pet Food Store’ in Stirchley

My shop started off as a Discount/Hardware Shop. We got a few sci-fi model kits in, because we’re all very much into sci-fi, so we went to some sci-fi shows to sell the kits. We’ve had no previous owners when we started, it was a discount hardware shop from the beginning for our mum to do during her retirement, but soon the model kits side took over the whole shop.
The only bit of hardware left is the brooms and mops outside, because they are out of the way and keep selling.

It’s a family business, me and my brother run it with the help of my sons. Besides running the shop, we also do a lot of travelling around the UK to indoor model shows and outdoor air shows all year round. The internet is another platform we sell from, mostly on Ebay or our website. I’ve not noticed many changes in our business or area throughout the years. We do get our quiet days in the shop as the internet is slowly taking over, but we’re still trading and managing well.

- Steve, ‘Mr. Models’ in Bearwood

In the early 1980's I was a club angler in the Bearwood area of Birmingham, and when the local angling shop closed I was aware of the need for a tackle shop in the area.

When I first opened 30 years ago, I was in partnership with Mark Downes, who was the youngest ever angler to fish for England.
He has now grown through the ranks to become England manager.
At that stage both of us were members of the "Starlets" match group, who were one of the best 3 teams in the country at that time.

After about 5 years Mark was bought out as he pursued his competitive angling career, but we’ve remained good friends. We set up in 1983 and now stock over 50,000 product lines such as fishing tackle, rods, reels, poles, clothes, accessories etc. to clients throughout the UK and around the world.

We launched a mail-order side to business after 2 years, which soon became very successful and continues to grow.

We mail-order all over the world from Russia to New Zealand and Australia. We excelled and became the biggest Pole selling shop in the country, where we remain today, as acclaimed by our peers.

The shop established a reputation for employing knowledgeable people with a no-nonsense approach to fishing, and for selling good stock at good prices. Kings Heath was opened in October 2000 after many requests and has happily served keen fishermen there ever since.

- Tony Troth, ‘Fishermans Friend’ in Bearwood 

My father Steve Davis has worked for my grandad at the shop since the 70's. The current owner of the shop is my grandad John Webb and still works 6 days a week, despite being 83!

His father Oliver John Webb opened the shop in 1921, when it was only half the size of what it’s now. 

Since the current 5th generation has joined the business, we opened a beautiful gift shop next door around the time of WW2, which I run with my mother.

- Samantha Davis, ‘Webb’s’ in Bearwood

We've been running the business for the last 30 years, since we first opened in 1983 and we’re now at the heart of the community providing building supplies. Our bunny Moshi has proved so popular, he’s like another member of staff now – we couldn’t be without him. This is the first time we’ve had an official mascot. 

My wife Sukhwinder decided to bring him in one day and he proved so popular with customers and their children, that he is now a permanent fixture.

My son Raj, who’s the store manager, says customers will go barmy if they aren’t greeted by Moshi. He always says that after tucking in to jam sandwiches for breakfast, Moshi is ready to go to work. His other favourite food is coriander.

- Surjit Sambhi, ‘Sambhi LTD’ in Stirchley

Our family business started about 50 years ago. My parents used to own it, but now I run the shop with my brother.

We stock from top to bottom with fresh food produce and much product is locally sourced. 

Potatoes are our speciality as you probably guessed by the shop’s name, but we also have a big range of potted plants if you're looking for something for your garden, as well as something for your plate.

- John Ward, ‘Wards Potato Cash ‘N’ Carry’ in Stirchley

Stirchley has a few specialist shops, however, none like on the scale of our shop. Our family run business has been around since the 1920's, when my grandmother first started. We moved here in the 60’s and have been in this premises for about 54 years. We used to own the shop on the other side of the road.

My daughter Shellei runs the shop now, but I’m still around a lot to help out. Everyone in the area knows us, because we’ve been around for so long. It’s nice to have a chat with the locals and when these familiar faces visit our shop.

- Michael Cox, ‘P. Browell Tobacconist’ in Stirchley

I opened my model shop in 1998, when I decided to turn my hobby into a business. There aren’t a lot of specialist shops around anymore, so that also played a role in me getting my own business. It’s just me in here, I’ve always been running the shop by myself. I chose to be based in Birmingham's famous Jewellery Quarter, because the infrastructure is great around here. 

There are many ways to get in and out of the city centre, which is only 3 minutes away via the metro services. I sell an extensive range of plastic kits, tools and paints, and I mainly specialise in metal model kits and wargaming accessories.

- Nigel Savage, ‘Parabellum’ in the Jewellery Quarter

We opened as a butcher’s shop on the 8th of March 1938 by Bill Bowketts Snr and his wife Muriel. Bill’s brother Sam joined him not long after, but eventually found that the business wouldn’t stretch to two wages so he went on to join the Territorial Army - hence the original name Bowkett Bro’s. Bill Bowkett Jnr was then born 6 weeks later on 19th April 1938 and took over the shop from his dad after doing his compulsory national service as camp butcher where he learnt how to cook.

Over the years the shop how gone from strength to strength surviving rationing. In later years we entered a variety of National competitions and won most of them with our homemade sausage! We had further success with our homemade pies which we started producing in 1989. Today we are members of the National Meat Federation and we make 28 different varieties of Award Winning sausages. All still made on the premises along with a large variety of meat pies and pork pies, all made in the traditional way.

- Ryan Whiles, ‘Bowketts of Oldbury’

I sell workwear such as chef uniforms, attire for nursing, safety and casual wear. The shop’s been going on for a long time. It used to be owned by someone else before, under same name and selling the same products. It’s just in different hands now. 

Darlington Street in Wolverhampton didn’t look that much different back in the 1980’s. In fact the familiar shop front of our shop has changed very little in the past 30 years, while most of the other ones have all disappeared.

- Gill, ‘The Red House’ in Wolverhampton

I am the shop director and work together with my company secretary Pallo Claire.

The shop was set up in 2005 and specialises in venue decorating for all locations. We also do gift wrapping, printing services, floral arrangements and banners. 

- Marik Bahra, ‘City Balloons’ in Wolverhampton

Adam Kerr, ‘Unit 3 Collectable Toys’ in Wolverhampton

Our shop has been bringing quality trophies and a reputable engraving service for over 30 years. We have a great range of silverware, medals, cups and trophies for every occasion. 

- Ruth Drewett, 'Wolverhampton Trophy Centre' 

I work in the shop with my mom. We stock wool, crafts, needlework, cross stitch, doll's houses, knitting patterns and much more. We first opened 16 years ago on January the 22nd. 

We have a lot of regular customers, but also the occasional new ones who jump off the bus at the bus stop opposite the shop to come in to have a look around. We also have customers from Scotland who come here 3 times a year, especially to see us.

- Tracy Spilsbury, ‘Wulfrun Wools & Crafts’ in Wolverhampton

The shop is named after my wife Christine, with whom I opened this shop in 1976. She was a well-known local figure whose customers became her friends. The kettle was constantly on. My two daughters Julie and Caroline now run the shop, but I still like to help out. We’re inclined to do a lot for charity, especially over the past 10 years since my wife passed away. Every Friday we run a charity group for locals.

Around 25 to 40 ladies and mothers attend our workshops, during which we mainly make blankets and baby hats. The money we make goes to charities in Birmingham and the blankets go to dog’s homes. Last time we made approximately 500 hats and 500 pairs of socks for the homeless and needy. 

We’re well known in the area, but people from all over the country come visit our shop. That’s the nice thing about running a family business, because there’s this community feeling created by locals that know the family from past generations.

- Phillips Davis, ‘Christine’s Wool Shop’ in Bournville

I've lived in this village for 25 years and now run this flower and gift shop. We also sell toys and greeting cards, so adults can have a mooch around and buy some unusual and quirky cards, while their children are let loose to explore the depths of the toy section.

The shop is a family business and has been around for about a 110 years.

- Louise Griffiths, ‘Louise of Bournville’

This pharmacy was first opened by Mr. Evans in 1905. When he passed away, his son took over and in 1970 my father W.G. Carter bought it. I took over 16 years after in 1986 and now run it with the help of my staff. 

My family isn’t really involved with the shop, so I don’t know what the future holds in terms of keeping my father’s business.

- Nick Carter, ‘The Bournville Pharmacy’

This row of shops here in Bournville, was built in 1909 and have had their own individuality from when they first started. Just before the First World War, there were Cadbury chocolate wagons and also coaches and horse carriages filled with bread and other goods from the bakery. 

At the time this bakery was owned by a family of sons called the Roy’s Family Bakers. After them it was owned by the Forbs family for about 30 years. Now for 30 years as well, it’s owned by the Whitehouse and Harris family. My mother Gillian Whitehouse does the books while I bake the cakes.

I run the shop with my sister, aunt and brother and we still bake on old premises. Hopefully the next generation will be able to enjoy it as much as the past. It is being kept as original as it was.

- Sally Harris, ‘The Bournville Bread Basket’

I opened the shop opened 1999 and it has always been my shop. I feel pride in that this is one of the few specialist shops in toys and collectables that’s still around.

- ‘Blue Crystal Collectables’ in Halesowen

The original owner of our shop was Kevin Bennett, who started in 2002. In 2014 he wanted to sell it, but I stayed with the shop. I now work together with Bryan and we’re a good team. 

Most folks know us by now, we have lots of regular customers, but also people who are still discovering our shop.

- Pauline Mills, ‘Bennetts’ in Walsall

Our greengrocer was previously owned by Mark Cahsmore for 16 years. He used to sell mostly English fruits and vegetables, but we’ve introduced Caribbean and other exotic products to our stock. 

This space has always been used as a fruit shop, even before we were born.

- Heaths Fresh Produce LTD in Walsall

I'm a sole trader and opened this shop in 2009. My customers are mainly locals. 

I always get people coming in asking for things they call by different names and it’s a real guessing game for me to find what they ask for.

- Kevin Browne, ‘Job Done Household’ in Oldbury

I've owned this shop for 12 years now and work on my own. The previous owner was a friend of mine and had this shop for about 20 years already. I get a lot of regular customers.

- Steve, ‘B & D Blinds’ in Oldbury

I work here together with my friend and owner Kevin. The shop has been around for 10 or so and we have a lot of regular customers.

- Roy, ‘Langley Auto Parts’ in Oldbury

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