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Alison McNaught – from local business owner to charity trustee

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Alison McNaught is a local business owner and Trustee of Crystal Palace Festival. For many years she ran a neighbourhood cafe/venue, Domali, and its second incarnation, Reunion. She is currently enjoying life as the co-landlord of the new vegan restaurant, Morgan and Watson, learning about wine working at Urban Cellar  and exploring postgraduate study.

The coronavirus pandemic has been really tough for the local economy and community in Crystal Palace. So much has changed.  But I think the business community communicates amongst itself better than it ever has and everyone is stronger together.

Back in March 2020, when the first lockdown happened, the immediate impact was one of shock and fear. Unsurprisingly so. Being closed down by the government in the wake of a potentially deadly virus was unprecedented. But community spirit was high and businesses soon galvanised, saying they would do what they could to adapt and support the community whilst staying safe.

Many businesses survived because they were able to be more flexible, especially by offering delivery and online services. But sector also had a big impact on whether a local business survived or thrived. Hospitality had a really hard time because of lockdown restrictions and social distancing, albeit necessary. But our excellent local garden centre, The Secret Garden, is thriving thanks to a boom in gardening as people have been at home a lot more.

We also have a fantastic new dog groomers, Lawrence’s Dog Grooming, in Westow Street. As well as being great at what they do, I think they will do well because of the increase in dog ownership during lockdown. I’ve certainly noticed a lot more dogs out and about in Crystal Palace Park.

I’ve lived in Crystal Palace for 27 years now – the longest I’ve lived anywhere. I grew up on the Aylesbury estate in Walworth and I arrived in Crystal Palace via Sydenham, East Dulwich and Forest Hill. I suppose I am a true south Londoner. I’ve been a trustee with the Crystal Palace Festival for 4 years now, and I’m really proud of the incredible job we did during the pandemic.

Delivering the 2020 Crystal Palace Festival online was a real highlight. A fantastic experience for the organisers, the public and especially the performers –  many of whom suddenly had all of their gigs cancelled by the pandemic. I think it lifted spirits and showed what an amazing outfit we are.

The Crystal Palace Festival has a big part to play in local life generally. It helps put Crystal Palace on the map as a standout community in London. It can be a source of civic pride and provide opportunities for everyone to participate in the arts and gather together – something missed by so many during the pandemic.

I believe participation in the arts can help people recover and build confidence after a very challenging time. The park events attract people from outside the area to discover what Crystal Palace has to offer and to visit local businesses. Our Spirit of the Estate programme inspires young people for years to come by providing the chance to learn important creative skills, to perform and participate. All the Festival’s activities are a touchstone for people to the arts and the wider community.

But this story isn’t over. Local businesses will be challenged by the fallout from the pandemic for some time to come and will need support. And, unfortunately, there are new challenges to face. Small business owners have a lot to do every day, sometimes with limited resources. The single most important thing to be done to help local businesses is for local people to commit to spending money with them and encouraging everyone they know to do so.

But, what I do know is – we have some amazing businesses in Crystal Palace run by brilliant, hardworking and talented people.

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