In this regular feature we meet Gail Laser, long-term resident, activist and vice-chair of both the Barnet Society and the Chipping Barnet Town Team. Gail also established campaigning group Love Barnet to help revitalise the High Street.
I left school at 16, much to the disgust of my parents and teachers, but I’d had enough. School was a disciplined environment and I wanted out. I briefly went to Barnet College and then worked for a marketing agency in Great Portland Street. I used to make extra cash by penning articles for the company chairman for a publication called Campaign. Sadly the managing director found out and I suppose the chairman was embarrassed and so I was fired. How horrifying was that!! It couldn’t happen today.
I met my husband in 1979 and married two years later. At that time I was working for Jaeger which was a very respected fashion company. I had a wonderful career with them having joined the company in 1976 in Brent Cross, the year it opened, and enjoyed every minute. We were sure it was going to be a white elephant back then… And now it’s due for expansion.
My husband was pretty old fashioned, and maybe at that time that suited me, so when I had our first baby I gave up work. After two children I decided I needed to do something for myself so took a part time college course and studied humanities with law. That’s another story. I eventually returned to part time work as PA to the director of an IT company that created one of the first UK online shops. It was Toys r Us. It was an interesting job as it was during the very early days of online retail and I learnt a lot.
About 17 years ago we moved to Hadley Green, Barnet. Our son was at Q E Boys and our daughter at Barnet College so it was a perfect location. I love it here. I can walk to the shops and go for a walk in the surrounding green spaces. The transport links are excellent and it’s a London suburb version of village life.
I grew up in North Finchley, so not a million miles from where I live now. It was very different then. Saturday morning pictures at the Gaumont Cinema was a favourite pastime, and now that cinema is a bus station, a block of flats and the Arts Depot. My, how things have changed!
I remember shopping in Chelsea Girl with my school friend Diane who is still a good friend to this day. We would pop in to the Wimpy Bar and have a burger with fried onions. Once we reached about fifteen we both worked on Saturdays in Owen Owens which was our local store. Not long after that I took on another job working for Marks & Spencer in Kilburn High Road. That was brilliant, the pay was amazing in those days, as were the perks.
I can’t say that I feel spoilt for choice with our local choice of eateries but my husband and I love the food at Too Too Moo in Whetstone. We are delighted to have local brasserie Mélange on our doorstep and I have to admit to taking out the filled pasta from Carluccio’s on Barnet High Street to cook at home. Avocado Smash for Saturday brunch at Boyden’s Kitchen in New Barnet is a fairly regular event, as are lunch or a tea time treat in the cute little Old Courthouse Cafe in Courthouse Gardens. I know they are extremely accommodating for the little ones too. Bel Gelato in The Spires sells the best cup of coffee, ice cream and chocolate for miles around. Pâtisserie Joie de Vie sells delicious croissants and is good for a light lunch. I suspect that Barnet will never be the place to visit for gourmet dining, but if it’s something mid range you’re after then I hear whispers that The Spires are courting a few well known names, so fingers crossed that we don’t be disappointed and it should help to open up a local night time economy.
I have been privileged to open three retail pop up shops, one of which 89, now Room 89 in Union Street (see picture), is a great success in its own right. Along with many others, my wish is to establish Chipping Barnet as a town centre that provides a good quality selection of retail, food and culture and I do believe that we are on our way.