Special Profile: Ken Graham and his emporium

Why people like Ken are the heart of our high streets

One of a series or articles titled Not Such a Soulless City by local writer and photographer STEPH LOAKE

This is Ken, Ken Graham.

Truth be told, I must admit I was a little nervous about going and chatting to Ken. I've never had an issue talking to strangers, in fact for many years I earned a living from it. But there has been something about Ken that has intrigued me for ages. The man who sits in the poster shop, the man with the better hat collection than me, the man with the intimidating presence…

I just had to go and find out what he was like.

Ken Graham

  • Ken Graham                                   © Steph Loake Photography

I've spent the last 30 years passing Ken's shop on Newport Pagnell’s High Street, and today was the first time I'd ever been inside. The shop, simply- named Ken’s Collectibles specialises in posters, vintage magazines, newspapers and all the weird and wonderful old printed items anyone could want including, incidentally, all local history books published by WordGo

When I started talking to Ken I got the feeling I was bothering him and that he certainly had better things to do than talking to me (which undoubtedly he did !).
But by the end of the photo-interview that hard exterior of his seemed to soften, and there was a warmth behind his eyes that reminded me of my grandfather … someone who had seen a lot, knew a great deal and was keeping all of the tales and secrets to himself.

Ken's has been up and running since 1983, which is no mean feat these days, especially in the Milton Keynes area with its huge shopping centre and markets.
We spoke about when the centre was built and as he said "it’s dominated by large companies, but there is still room for small operators like me.”

Personally, I believe that shops like Ken's and other small businesses are the heart of our Milton Keynes high streets. Looking out of his crowded front window, he mentioned the local butchers across the street, and how they have similarly managed to avoid the too-familiar story of local store closure due to the influx of big names like "Tesco" and the "Co-op" where convenience has unfortunately taken over from loyalty

Ken Graham in his Shop

  • Inside Ken’s shop – ‘like entering another world’        © Steph Loake Photography

Stepping into Ken’s shop was like entering another world, the walls are covered from top to bottom with posters and magazine clippings. But among all the paraphernalia, the most interesting thing to me was actually the man hidden beneath it all.

As I photographed Ken, surrounded by his papers and files, I thought about the huge variety of people that call Milton Keynes their home. Ken, who is originally from Sunderland, moved down to the London area decades ago, and settled in Milton Keynes in the 1970s.

People like Ken and his shop are the heart of our great city, and just like his shop, maybe we all sometimes feel too many of us have been crammed into a small space.

But if you look closely, you can certainly find some hidden treasure - and today for me, that treasure was Ken.

Ken’s emporium

  • Ken’s emporium          © StephLoakePhotography

Steph’s article was edited by Richard Meredith

For more information visit  www.stephloakephotography.com