Mel’s taste for life

In her latest interview with local older people, Amina Ahmed meets the owner of a West Indian food stall

Mel Ennis

Mel Ennis, outside William Morris Community Centre

Mel Ennis moved to the UK from Jamaica in the 1950s, when she was in her early teens. She lived in Peckham with her parents until she got married 45 years ago and moved with him to Waltham Forest. Here she still lives, on the border of Leyton and Leytonstone.

I ask her what Mel is short for and she laughs. “My name is Melviron but everyone calls me Mel because it’s so much easier. I really think my grandfather was drunk when he named me such a long and complicated name.”

Since moving to the borough, Mel has been involved in running the William Morris Community Centre in Greenleaf Road. The 72-year-old talks about the difficulties women faced at that time with domestic violence and young girls being abused.

She started off helping women from home and was soon able to get the attention of Waltham Forest Council and was given £30,000 funding to employ someone to take care of a centre. Mel spends every Monday and Wednesday at the William Morris Community Centre and runs or helps run the Afro Caribbean Elders Association, West Indian Association and Black Business Association.

She tells me a bit about her past. In 1961 she started a nursing course at the Orpington Hospital in Kent. However, when it was time for her to have a baby she was asked if she wanted to be a nurse or a mother.

“At that time, you couldn’t be both,” she says. “So I chose being a mother.”

She started work at the Leyton Bus Garage with her husband to help pay the mortgage. In 1969 she tried her luck again and went back to training to be a nurse but was disappointed when they told her she could not have two jobs.

Once more Mel was forced to return to conducting, until her youngest of three started going to school. This is when she found a bit of time on her hand and decided to do a course in men’s tailoring at the London College of Fashion.

She was finally able to start working at a hospital and able to afford a place at a private school for her youngest daughter as she did not want her to go to the same “rough” state school as her eldest daughter.

Mel started baking in her own time and this was when she set up her local West Indian takeaway at Walthamstow Market – Mel’s Tasties.

She is starting to fundraise for Great Ormond Street Hospital after her granddaughter was born with a hole in her heart. Her father had the same condition. Sadly, back then they were in Jamaica and the doctors were not able to figure out the problem until much later when he had lost all his teeth and his legs were swollen.

Finally I ask her what her advice for the younger generation is.

“Have an aim and work hard. If you don’t have a vision, you will just go through life without working towards anything. And never give up.”

If you would like to suggest an older person to be interviewed for this column: