Bogside native’s creative souvenir venture in city centre includes unique designs and limited edition works from Locky Morris
A Derry woman has opened up a unique new souvenir shop that is fast becoming a tourist attraction in its own right in the centre of the city.
Stephanie English from Cable Street in the Bogside has used her first hand knowledge of growing up in the city through the Troubles to create her own designs and give tourists a grass-roots insight into the events that helped shape the city.
Ms English lifted the shutters on the striking, part military-themed ‘Checkpoint Charlie’ store on Waterloo Street earlier this summer.
She told the Journal this week that she named the shop after her late, beloved brother Charles English, an IRA volunteer who was killed in 1985.
The store itself is an imaginative Derry reworking of the famous landmark in Berlin, which is itself now a major tourist draw. Like the original, you can get your passport stamped, and buy a wide range of unique gifts specially created to reflect Derry’s deep cultural roots and struggle against oppression.
As well as having Ms English’s own unique designs and creations on display, in a rare coup, prestigious local artist Locky Morris has created limited editions of some of his early works, including his legendary ‘Flight Of The Cooker’ which people can buy for the first time in almost 30 years.
‘The Flight of the Cooker’ depicts a real-life incident where a cooker was thrown from the Rossville ‘high’ flats on to a passing RUC Land Rover on Rossville Street. To the amusement of the locals, the story reached the broadcast news at the time. Locky Morris’ artwork depicting the act of defiance was later exhibited in Pilot’s Row in 1989.
It is one of several limited edition iconic artworks by Morris depicting Derry in those decades available for sale only at Checkpoint Charlie. These also include ‘Statelet’ and ‘Dawn Raid’.
With Ms English’s own work, the recurring greyhound theme tips its hat not only to the Derry’s unofficial cultural icon but also to her grandfather, well-known doggie man James Doherty.
The experience of life in Derry is represented in various creations with Bogside hoodies and Free Derry artefacts alongside art deco paintings featuring Free Derry Corner. Little milk bottles with sweets inside and decorated metal bin lids represent how everyday objects such as these became the instruments used by local people in the struggle against the state.
Speaking to the Journal, Stephanie said her business venture had been a change of direction from her previous day job.
“What I have done in creating Checkpoint Charlie is to draw on the social and political history of the city to produce quality items that depict the city that I grew up in.
“I opened up at the end of June and I think I just identified a wee niche in the market and I had always had notions of stopping working ‘for the man’ and starting working for myself.
“This is my first business venture and I have never worked in retail before. I worked previously in paralegal an as a researcher.
“I have taken this in my stride. I worked at it as a project. I spent a few months developing all of the designs and ideas and it all came together very quickly and then all of a sudden I had a shop and it was opened. I got a lot of help from a great lecturer at the North West Regional College, John McCallion, and Fab Lab at the Nerve Centre.
“I found it really exciting, I didn’t find it that daunting- it was less daunting because I had that sort of support. I’m going to continue that relationship with the Tech and Fab Lab.
“I wanted it to have a different look and designs you wouldn’t get in any other souvenir shop. I wanted it to be a bit of an experience. That’s why there are displays and photographs, to give a bit of an understanding of the political background.
“It’s not so much coming in and buying something, it’s a wee experience and people scribble their messages, and I am able to talk to them about the political background from my perspective.”
Some visitors have written their appreciation on the chalk boards specifically designed for them to leave their thoughts, and there’s been nothing but praise for the shop and for Derry.
“When the tourists come in and are chatting about Derry the compliments they have about the people of Derry is amazing,” Ms English said. “ It does your heart good to see it. Some people have said this is their favourite city in the world because of the people.
“Local people have been coming in as well. Some say they are coming in for a wee nosy and I say come on in. There has been great support from Derry people,”
Many Derry people have also been coming in looking for their passport stamped, which Stephanie does for nothing and sees as a good way of engaging and interacting with other people.
Many more, including honeymooning couples and even a wedding party have also recently landed to have their photos taken at the photobooth ‘checkpoint’ inside the store.
Speaking about some of her designs, Ms English said: “I really wanted the greyhound to be there in the design because of my grandfather James Doherty. He was a big doggy man and was well known for it, and I always said that when I was growing up I seen more greyhounds than oak trees.
“I also wanted the women with the bin lids. The image of women banging their bin lids is also an important part of our social and political history, this image is also part of the designs of my products,”
One local customer was Pennyburn native Catherine Jennings (27), who was purchasing some items to take back to Edinburgh where she has lived the past five years.
Ms Jennings said: “This is great for presents for people. I spend so much time over there talking about home it’s nice to be able to take a wee bit of yourself away.”
Welcoming the contribution of Locky Morris, Ms English said:
“I am delighted that Locky has chosen Checkpoint Charlie as the context to reproduce his iconic art-pieces.
“I have always admired Locky’s work, especially how he addressed key representations of the conflict here. ‘The Flight of the Cooker’ sits perfectly in my shop amid the oak-leaves, the bin-lids and the greyhounds.”