Words by Sareta Puri
Pauline Wright may be best known as the spritely wee Scottish woman who runs Forest Hill’s Sugar Mountain sweet shop, but stop for a chat and it’s soon apparent that the local community would be very different without her at the heart of it.
Outside of the sweet shop business - which she started in 2012, because she’s a self-professed “big kid at heart” - Pauline is also an active member of the local community. She is one of the leading individuals involved in the campaign to save Forest Hill library, an executive member of the Forest Hill Traders’ Association, she runs community events and activities including Forest Hill Fashion Week, and is also a doting mother to her children Ellé and Charlie. Considering all that, it’s hard to imagine how this vivacious lady always has so much energy!
Speaking proudly about her children, Pauline says: “As a single parent, my kids tend to get involved with my events and projects, which I love and they enjoy. Both of them are very much Mini Me's in so many ways - even though Ellé is taller than me!"
These strong family values can be traced back to Pauline’s own childhood. She grew up in a working class family in Glasgow where her artistic father ran a community centre, and despite passing away when she was only 8-years-old, he became one of her greatest inspirations: “If I can achieve half of what he did in his short life I will be over the moon. I aim to do him proud.”
Pauline moved to London in the 1980s to train at The Urdang Academy of Ballet and Performing Arts. This led to a career starting in musical theatre – which once you get to know Pauline, still influences her to this day and she acknowledges that: “It's quite natural to me to coordinate events and get creative with them - that's the choreography side coming out in me.”
After living in Hampstead, Chalk Farm, Brockley and Beckenham Pauline settled in Forest Hill around 16 years ago and claims she “wouldn't change it for the world and would never live anywhere else after living here. I absolutely love the community spirit.”
Pauline set up Sugar Mountain in 2012 - undoubtedly one of the most notable outlets in the area and winner of a 2014 Time Out Love London award – to help “everyone to be able to take a step back in time and relive their childhood anytime. I just love it when people pop in and get nostalgic” which is impossible not to do in a shop with floor to ceiling glass jars of sweets such as sherbert lemons and gobstoppers behind the counter and retro games piled up in the ‘50s style booths alongside walls adorned with movie posters including legendary ‘80s films E.T and The Goonies.
Nowadays it’s almost easy to forget that Pauline’s main business is the sweet shop as she’s involved in so many other projects – despite being in the shop 6 days a week. Becoming a pillar of the community came quite naturally to her as she appreciated that community projects help to provide a better place for underprivileged kids and adults and overall improve the area for everyone in general.
“Once I opened my shop I decided to get to know the local traders, first by just popping by to say hello, then later on asking them to get involved in some of my crazy ideas and I have lots. It seemed to have worked.”
For four years Pauline has been involved in Forest Hill Fashion Week - currently teaming up with Emma Drysdale of Gems Performing Arts to deliver a much loved community event that’s certainly brought out some of her aforementioned creativity with activities including flash mobs, catwalk shows, workshops and music nights.
Helping secure the community takeover of Forest Hill library has been one of Pauline’s most notable ventures. “Initially I fought to keep our library Council-run alongside Michael from The Forest Hill Society,” she explains. “But after the first consultation, myself and a friend, John Russell, discussed how we could possibly keep our library a library. After meetings with all of us plus Simon Higgs and Tara from V22 we put forward a not-for-profit bid and our bid was successful. So we are now taking on our library.”
The library will now be community run and whilst Lewisham Council will continue to provide books and the lending software, the group has to generate income to cover running costs – staffing, licenses, taxes, insurance and even more – which they are doing so via a crowdfunding campaign.
Despite all of this success Pauline is exceptionally humble. “I don't ever feel I'm a hero,” she says, when asked what her proudest moment as a local hero was.
So what's next for Pauline? In her own words, “the list is endless.” We for one, are confident this means more and more stunning work for the local community...