where we have been and where we are going
all started in the summer of 1979 when Richard Scott,
an educational book publishing worker, set up Leeds Postcards
in a room at his home in Leeds. The first card he published
was for health and safety at work sponsored by the British
Society for Social Responsibility in Science (BSSRS) warning
against the possible hazards of using VDU's 'tomorrows technology
today's headache' how true. And this is why Leeds Postcards
is best understood as a (political) publishing house for postcards:
Artists/authors are found, campaigns contacted, sponsors found,
publicity organised, adverts placed and cards marketed to
both the Trade and to groups and individuals.
moved Leeds Postcards out of his home to Aire Street
Workshops in 1984 and was joined by fellow CPGB activist
Richard Honey to separately set up Leeds Distribution under
the Enterprise Allowance scheme. Distribution is the key to
success in publishing as it controls what you are able to
publish, large distributors had already refused to carry us
as the cards were seen as too political.
was also the year of the miners' strike. Together with the
NUM, Leeds Postcards published sets of postcards in
support of the strike with many artists contributing their
work to the cause. The Leeds Postcards Miner's Strike Fund
was set up for the proceeds of the postcards. In October Richard
employed Christine Hankinson who had experience in educational
publishing and newspapers in London. With front page adverts
in the Guardian for the sets of postcards in return for donations
to The Miners Strike Fund, over £50,000 was raised
and given to the fund by the end of the year.
1985 it was decided that the three would become a workers
collective. Northern Trading Co-operative Company Ltd bought
Leeds Postcards from Richard Scott and it was registered
with Scott, Honey and Hankinson as directors at Companies
House in November 1986.
Gradually we moved on to producing and selling greeting cards
and introduced many other ranges; art cards, womens' artist
cards (published jointly with Cath Tate Cards) t-shirts,
wrapping paper and posters. The 'peasant paintings' from Nicaragua
Solidarity Campaign were particularly popular, soon to
be followed by ranges of greeting cards for Anti Apartheid
Enterprises and Women and Turkeys Against Christmas
by Angela Martin became our top selling and first xmas card.
We were printing the cards on recycled board and using soya
based inks...no one else was doing this.
1988 it was decided to expand the collective of workers:
Steve Edwards whose business selling cards to students was
one of our strongest sales outlets became a member in January
1989 and Alison Sheldon who had been working in diligently
in despatch in November 1989. Richard Scott resigned and Dinah
Clark joined us in the Spring of 1990. However
all the major issues and campaigns that Leeds Postcards
had both fought for, and against, succeeded or failed at this
time: Nelson Mandela was freed in February 1990. Margaret
Thatcher was ousted from power in November 1990. Sandanistas
lost power, and of course the Berlin wall fell in November
1989. With the benefit of hindsight it was folly to have expanded
at this time - but we did.
five full time workers and two large units at Aire Street
Workshops Leeds Postcards found itself ill prepared
to meet the recession of the early 90's. Large bookselling
stores Borders' and Waterstones' sprang up initially
cutting the price of books, piling them high and selling them
cheap, effectively closing the small independent bookshops,
our main customers. Even stalwarts like Collets in
Charing Cross Road and Central Books, which used to
be the Workers' Bookshop, the official bookshop of
the CPGB, closed down in the early nineties. None could withstand
the the rise of the global capitalism. The big campaigns had
ended, Trade Unions had lost their confidence and a new corporate
mentality was spreading into the alternative market, which
had become fashionable and essentially meaningless. Mainstream
card companies bought logos off campaigns like Amnesty
International and Greenpeace. We couldn't compete
in this new market (or perhaps didn't want to ?). By 1995
Leeds Postcards were making an operational loss and
we all worked one day less. Both Steve Edwards and Dinah Clark
turned out to be a heady year of great achievement and loss:
Whilst seeking images to publish a card of the tree sitters
of the Newbury Bypass Campaign I met the Friends
of the Earth online moderator Harry Wykes. He happened
to be a fan of Leeds Postcards and offered to build
a website for us for free! He put me in touch with Poptel,
the ISP of the Labour movement to host it (now The Phone Coop)
- and they still do. So we had a website - rare in 1996. Also
that year Jeya Ayadurai, from Singapore and a fan of Leeds
Postcards from his student days in Leeds, wanted to sell Leeds
Postcards in Singapore and his company Singapore History
Consultants paid for a stand at the Singapore Stationery
Fair which I attended in the Spring. So hopeful so far...and
then Waterstones' asked Leeds Postcards to publish
a set of Christmas cards for them as our cards had been selling
so well at their new flagship store in Leeds...the future
looked promising but these positive signs buttered no parsnips.
high overheads and poor cash flow meant we had no money to
pay ourselves wages. Despite us being the longest running
Workers co-op in the UK with a fully backed modest overdraft
of only £5000, the Co-op bank refused to help us. Soon
Alison Sheldon and then Richard Honey found new employment.
So then the Workers Collective was down to one, me.
After consulting ICOM I was advised that as it was trading
at a loss Northern Trading Co-op Ltd would have to
be wound up. The ICOM's liquidation lawyer employed me to
sell as much stock to distributors in the UK and overseas
as possible and 40 ton of cards were recycled to enable the
business to move out of Aire Street Workshops and stop paying
rent. I was then solely pursued for the repayment of the overdraft.
It was very tough doing this alone, a very stressful time.
I bought the title of Leeds Postcards, the archives,
core stock , and computer from the liquidator and moved it
into my house in Headingley. However with no rent, no staff,
no wages and doing all the pre-press work digitally on home
computer, it was possible to keep Leeds Postcards going.
When my statutory redendancy came through in February 1997
I was able to publish my first print run.
Wykes kept the website up to date but Cath Tate Cards
who had bought up most stock from the liquidator to distribute
to the trade unfortunately didn't agree to market new cards,
just ones she chose, this would have meant Leeds Postcards
would cease to be an independent publisher so I had to go
it alone. It was extremely lucky that Graham Draisey who had
established the first Oxfam Bookshop in Headingley
was a fan of Leeds Postcards. As his small shop was
so successful, making a record-breaking million, he was soon
appointed to establish a chain of Oxfam Bookshops throughout
the UK. and ..As the new shops were opened a spinner of Leeds
Postcards was installed in many of these new Oxfam
Bookshops. This basically meant that Leeds Postcards
could independently survive and carry on publishing. Cath
Tate Cards did distribute, those she chose, very well
to the Trade and I had a loyal group of subscribers who were
my inspiration as they bought cards before they were published
and gave me great encouragement.
1999 Adam Waller, a Goldsmiths arts graduate and fan
of Leeds Postcards, moved up to Leeds and worked for
Leeds Postcards. He inspired curator Nigel Walsh at
Leeds City Art Gallery to run an exhibition of Leeds Postcards
and in In 2000 the exhibition called Viva Leeds
21 years of Leeds Postcards opened and ran at the art
gallery for 6 months. It later toured art galleries in Cumbria
and Northern Ireland.
Sadly Harry Wykes my online friend and supporter suffered
a heart attack in 2005
2008 my daughter Thea Mallett joined Leeds Postcards.
She oversaw the building of a new website with technology
for online buying www.leedspostcards.co.uk
and thanks to her enthusiasm and inspiration Leeds Postcards
is still here.
then....In 2018 Four Corners Books, the highly
regarded art book publisher approached me to publish a book
on Leeds Postcards (called Leeds Postcards).
They commissioned me and graphic designer Craig Oldham
www.craigoldham.co.uk to select about 100 cards with background
information. It is a beautifully produced book in hardback
and a bargain at £12
we're keeping on keeping on...
keeping in the black and the overheads low. Postcards, a much
loved medium are perhaps here to stay with a different audience.
A less virtual, more permanent way to express and share your
we will settle for our cards having pricked the odd conscience,
raised an awkward question or wittily revealed a political
because of what is happening now, caused by Covid-19 the coronavirus,
there will be a revolution, not caused by political activism
but by real life and death threatening everyone equally. The
perception of whose work is really valuable will hopefully
change. Things will never be the same. We'll see and we will
keep publishing if we survive it.
Thanks for reading Keep safe
xxxxx on a postcard