That’s what we started to talk about, how could you change things, … we both, for different, differing reasons, almost the same, hated, slagging off social workers really, and posh people that came in and just made a living off the poor, and changed nothing.
And that’s when we sort of started to say, well how could you be in Hackney, somewhere like Hackney, in a legitimate way, how could you legitimately be there? And we talked about, well what people are there legitimately? And, you know, one of the things that came up was, well shopkeepers are there legitimately, because although they’re making a living, they’re providing a service. So, you could be there as a shopkeeper.
And then it just evolved, the conversation just evolved, and came round to the fact that, you know, why were there no bookshops? Glenn couldn’t understand, why were there no bookshops in Hackney, when there were all these schools and all these adult education things, and, you know, why weren’t there any bookshops? And I said, ‘Well there wouldn’t be,’ I said, ‘because, you know, as far as the English class system’s concerned, the working classes don’t read.’ And I said, ‘Anyway, you know, I would feel, I would...’ And I remember that, I said, and as a librarian, I was saying how, I would be nervous going into a bookshop, even I as a relatively educated person …
You know, bookshops had this, a sort of aura, didn’t they, they were cathedrals of learning. … And which was not Glenn’s experience at all of course. And of course the sort of, the ’60s revolution was happening ahead, the cultural, or, the counterculture, the counterculture was sort of, happening ahead in America. And there were bookshops with coffee shops in America, but there weren’t here.
Margaret Gosley was born in 1939 in Yorkshire, was adopted as a baby and grew up in Watford. She met Glenn Thompson in the late 1960s when they were both doing youth work in Hackney. Later, on a Brighton beach they dreamt up the idea of opening a community centre with a difference; based out of a bookshop and coffee bar they would make a ‘legitimate intervention’ in a working class community. Margaret played an active role in setting up Centerprise and also contributed by supporting Glenn emotionally and financially, and looking after their daughter Shoshannah, while he worked full time to make their dream real.
Margaret details how they got the Centerprise project off the ground through hard work, luck and audacity, began publishing local authors, starting with schoolboy Vivian Usherwood’s poems, and their departure from Centerprise, which coincided with the breakdown of their marriage. She describes the people involved in the project and provides an intimate and insightful account of Glenn Thompson. The interview is littered with witty and important anecdotes for anyone interested in the story behind Centerprise’s emergence. Margaret goes on to describe her life after Centerprise and her involvement with the Hackney Housing Co-op.
Interviewed by Charlie Clarke.