where we have been and where we are going
all started in the summer of 1979 when Richard Scott,
who worked as an editor at AJ Arnold, the Leeds-based educational
publisher, set up Leeds Postcards from his home in
Leeds. An active Trade Unionist and member of the CPGB the
first card he published was for health and safety at work
sponsored by the British Society for Social Responsibility
in Science (BSSRS).
realised that whereas permission for posters to be put up
in the workplace was often needed and refused there was no
ban of postcards being displayed on desks. Inspired by the
political postcards of Klaus Staeck in Germany and his experience
in publishing, Leeds Postcards was born.
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 like WH Smiths and Menzies had
already refused to carry us as the cards were seen as too
was also the year of the miners' strike and 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.
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 donated to the fund by the end of the
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 despatch
joined us in November 1989 followed by Dinah Clark.
the Spring of 1990 Richard
Scott resigned. It
was a time when many of the major campaigns that Leeds
Postcards had both fought for had succeeded or failed:
Nelson Mandela was freed in February 1990; Margaret Thatcher
was ousted from power in November 1990; Sandanistas lost power
in Nicaragua and of course the Berlin wall fell in November
1989 followed by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990.
Big changes were afoot.
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.
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.
big campaigns closed down through lack of support, Trade Unions
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 ?).
1995 Leeds Postcards were making an operational
loss and we all worked one day less. Both Steve Edwards and
Dinah Clark resigned.
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 the Pacific rim. 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.
This meant 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 to pay and doing all the pre-press work myself 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
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. As the new shops were opened a spinner of Leeds Postcards
was installed in many of these new Oxfam Bookshops.
This 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
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 and died 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 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 award-winning graphic designer Craig
Oldham (see card below) to select about 100 cards over the
decades with background information and essay on the history
of the company. (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
by Craig Oldham: 1068 May they never