Moving with the times

Shamil Joomun runs a coffee bar from inside his father’s audio repair shop – Jon Seymour went along to find out more

Armstrong Audio

Shamil and Twaleb Joomun outside Armstrong Audio in Blackhorse Lane

When cyclone Carol hit Mauritius in 1960, a family’s bakery business – like much of the island – was destroyed.

It was rebuilt, not with wood fired ovens as before, but with a new mechanised baguette system. It meant the family’s youngest of twelve children was free to pursue his future; something he saw when television arrived.

Twaleb Joomun moved to London in 1968; he originally planned to study and then return home to service and grow the new bakery. But after studying at Kingston Poly, Bayswater, and working by day as a test engineer at Gamages Department Store, near Chancery Lane, the young apprentice was taken on by radio and audio manufacturer Armstrong in 1970.

This was the beginning of Japanese imports, and the end of a national industry. In ten years, Armstrong Audio moved from Holloway to Walthamstow, as the business declined from being a manufacturer to offering only warranty service repair. In twenty years, it was put up for sale.

Twaleb’s family came together, bought what was left of the company, and moved the shop to its present location in Blackhorse Lane. All around them, industry was in decline: Hampton Champion lift manufacturers, gone; GEC’s transformer factory, gone; Marks & Spencer’s slipper factory, gone; Bush, Boake Allen perfumes, gone; Van Heusen shirts, gone. What was left was a tired old repair shop in a vacated zone.

Which brings us to today.

A large green planter extends from a new coffee shop like a friendly arm – an invitation to step inside from a busy road. Twaleb’s son Shamil offers his hand, revealing an inked shape on his forearm, Mauritius in outline. He fills me in: “Four years ago I needed a break. I spent three months on the island collecting data on dolphins for the Marine Conservation Society. I liked working with the local fishermen.”

Returning to the UK, Shamil moved to Brick Lane: “I liked walking to work. I liked the community. I liked the new coffee places. I didn’t like the City.”

At Armstrong Audio, on his father’s shelves, in their wood trims and chrome, Shamil saw a theatre of sound. He built a coffee shop around an open work space, repairing and working with local suppliers; the circular economy here in the stirring of a cup.

“You should see their faces when they collect their repaired units,” says Twaleb. On the work table sits a 726 AM-FM stereo receiver being reconditioned with bluetooth technology; old and new, father and son, audio repairs and coffee cups coming together at 32a Blackhorse Lane.

,