So by keeping in the black and the overheads low, Leeds Postcards has managed to carry on publishing new political postcards and stay in print. 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 views.

Backstory; where we have been and where we are going

It 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).

Richard 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.

Richard 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 political.

1984 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.

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 donated to the fund by the end of the year.

During 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.

By 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.

In 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.

With 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.

Many 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 ?).

By 1995 Leeds Postcards were making an operational loss and we all worked one day less. Both Steve Edwards and Dinah Clark resigned.

1996 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.

Our 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.

Harry 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. 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 encouragement.

In 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.

In 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.

and 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).

2020 we're keeping on keeping on... by 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 views we will settle for our cards having pricked the odd conscience, raised an awkward question or wittily revealed a political irony.

Perhaps 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

Christine Hankinson

card by Craig Oldham: 1068 May they never

Leeds Postcards is run by Christine Hankinson and Thea Mallett and is based in Headingley Leeds.

4 Granby Road, Leeds LS6 3AS. (0113) 278 7540 email: xtine@leedspostcards.com

 

 

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