Estimated reading time:8 minutes, 52 seconds
Everyone onĀ Islington Faces BlogĀ has a story. Ā What would make a teenage tearaway change? Small Restorations boss Cass Farrell talks about how he turned his life around – thanks to his own strong work ethic and two amazing men. It ought to be a movie.Ā InterviewĀ byĀ Nicola Baird
āYouāve got to work for your luck ā everyone will be lucky somewhere but then youāve got to grasp it,ā says Cass Farrell in the office of Small Restorations, the joinery shop in Blackstock Road that offers the sort of old-fashioned service that Islington home owners want. Local businesses love it too: as a result Small Restorations has helped stamp a unique identity on Blackstock Road by creating shop and restaurant fronts for the Woodbine pub, Gathering Moss, Out of the Attic and more recently for Cinnamon Village 2 as well as Seasons and Blossoms.
ISLINGTON FACES LIVEĀ – to celebrate islingtonfacesblog’s 100th interview there will be a one-off live event with Nicola Baird at the King’s Head Theatre, Upper Street on Saturday 25 October 2014, from 3-5pm.Tickets are Ā£5 in advanceĀ atĀ https://kingsheadtheatre.ticketsolve.com/shows/873523048/eventsĀ Ā or call the box office on 0207 478 0160. Tickets on the door will be Ā£6.
Expect to meet local royalty – the Pearly King of Finsbury; a stargazer from Highbury Fields; stunningĀ Ethiopian singerĀ Hanisha Solomon; Joanna Bevan who runs aĀ unique language cafe at Archway, the Mayor of IslingtonĀ plusĀ others.
This event is toĀ fundraise for King’s Head Theatre. Ā islingtonfacesblog is delighted that Barnaby’s hairdressing salon at Highbury Barn is sponsoring the show.
Cass, now 49, grew up in Holloway off Seven Sisters. āDadās still got that place. He was born in Montserrat ā he came here in the 1950s and hasnāt been back since because heās scared of flying.ā The familyās island home has long been swallowed by Montserratās infamous volcano, but Cass says his 78-year-old Dad still has a brother living there who is 105 years old. āHe was one of 14,ā says Cass attempting to explain the huge age gap.
Leaning back in his leather office chair, facing a wall decorated with photos and old-fashioned timber saws Cass, who has been a managing partner of the company since it was dreamt up by Colin Small 28 years ago, looks born to it. But he is quick to give credit to the two men who helped him after his Dad gave up on theĀ out-of-control teenage son. āIāve been lucky twice in my life. If it wasnāt for Colin Small and Tony Davis I donāt want to think where Iād be now,ā says Cass.
Cassās life story is one that movie makers might like.
Growing up in Islington
āI was a typical naughty boy. I liked fighting and kiss chase! My sister dragged me to school at Yerbury Primary school. I feel quite sorry for my mum now Iāve got children,ā says Cass who is a father of four and already a granddad.
Cassās undoing was cars, but in a strange way it was his desire to have his own vehicle that helped him end up at Small Restorations with five employees.
āI was always getting into trouble,ā admits Cass who eventually ended up in a Young Offenders institute a long way from Islington. āI deserved it. I was stealing cars ā all the police knew my face.”
“I made up my mind in prison that when I came out Iād get a job and not get into trouble. My dad had disowned me, but my mum used to visit in Suffolk and I didnāt want to let her down.ā
Although he learnt how to brick lay in prison, his first job back in London was as a driver for a joinery business on Hackney Road. āI got Ā£120 for six days,ā remembers Cass. āIād be paid every Friday and be short by Sunday.ā But he worked hard and caught the attention of a skilled joiner, Tony Davis. āIād finish driving jobs early and report back to the shop and get involved in sanding and priming windows and doors. Tony started teaching me all kinds of joinery. Thatās when I knew I wanted to go legit and not be paid in cash. I wanted to use HP to buy a car.ā
Places Cass Farrell enjoys in Islington
Small Restorations takes up so much time ā I do seven days a week but Blackstock Road is like a second home to me. I think everybody knows me. And I shop round here ā I use Dave at Highbury Butchers (see interview with islingtonfacesblog here) and Wallers for fruit and veg. Mustafa opposite cuts my hair.
I jog round Finsbury Park ā I like all the trees, especially in autumn.
The bars and restaurants on Stoke Newington Church Street are great, but I go a few times a year to Juniper, 100 Blackstock Road, N5. I really like this restaurant.
Iām a season ticket holder for Arsenal and go with Metal Mickey ā most people know him! I always liked the old stadium, but the new stadium is getting there.
Letās go clubbing
After a few years one of the companyās customers, Colin Small, asked Cass to work for him.
āIt was the 1980s and he used to buy houses and restore them. Colin bought an old van for me too. But then came the house slump and wages were hard to come by. At that age Iād go clubbing, and at the Rocket near Holloway Road [itās still there just by Daniel Libiskindās crazy building at 166-220 Holloway Road, N7] Iād help the technician out. Iād been with Colin a few years when they offered me a job at weekends. Iād do clubs, set up sound systems and fix breaks. You must know it. Itās where Mega Dog, Return to the Source and The Prodigy started off. Iām still there ā Iām the longest serving member of staff!ā
Then came the property slump. āColin and I had always been busy but there was never enough money. So when things started picking up again and Colin decided he wanted to get a joinersā shop so he could make things for other builders. He found this place on Blackstock Road and said to me Iāll make you a partner in the business. He warned me we may be working for no money, but Iād been working for practically nothing for two years!ā
Gradually the economy picked up and Small Restorationsā turnover improved.
āNow comes the good bit,ā says Cass with pride. āAfter we were established here Tony said heād come and work with us. He had so much knowledge, and I hadnāt finished my apprenticeship with him. He worked with us for years. It was a big blow when Tony passed away four years ago, he was like a father to me.ā
In an even nicer twist to this story it turns out that Tonyās son, Terry, now works at Small Restorations.
Keep it clean
So what are Cassā tips for coping with building work?
āItās a big deal having windows or a staircase taken out so some people get worried. You have to remember that youāre going into someoneās house so youāve got to be ultra clean and not leave the place in a state. Some people really thank us for that.ā The only disappointment ā for islingtonfacesblog at any rate ā is that Cass has never found a mummified cat inbetween floorboards, see interview with Marco Wouters at Angel Flowers, see here.Ā āWeāve found old coins and a newspaper clipping from the 1920s though,ā he says.
A few years ago Cass and his team at Small Restorations fitted double glazed sash windows in my house. And they did it brilliantly, so Iāve recommended them to many people. Turns out there are plenty of fans ā theyāve even done work for the Sultan of Brunei and the American Embassy. āIāve worked in 1,000s of houses,ā says Cass, ābut I wouldnāt want to be anywhere else than Islington.ā
- Small Restorations, 199 Blackstock Road, N5. Tel: 020 7359 9753.
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This blog is inspired byĀ Spitalfields LifeĀ written by the Gentle Author.