IslingtonTribune

The independent London newspaper

My model world is now no match for virtual reality

Shop owner who turned a boyhood hobby into a thriving business is contemplating closure

17 November, 2017 — By Joe Cooper

Richard Harris in the Holloway Road shop

AS a boy, Richard Harris would press his face against the window of HJ Nicholls and Son, dreaming of owning the models inside. Fifty years later, he bought the shop and turned his hobby into a full-time job.

But this week the 68-year-old told the Tribune that the shutters would come down on the Holloway Road shop, now known as 308 Hobbies, next year. He lamented how younger generations had lost interest in model planes and radio-controlled cars.

“We’re now living in a virtual reality world,” said Mr Harris. “I think you can trace it back to the government closing the technical schools 45 years ago. The plan has been for everybody to become a computer wizard. Now, all people are used to is clicking a computer button or looking on YouTube, but people can’t hold a paint­brush or screwdriver.”

In his youth, Mr Harris said children and teenagers around Myddelton Square, Finsbury, where he grew up, would make go-karts from wood and old pram wheels. Ever penny from his paper round would be spent in the model shop and he would put together planes in his father’s workshop.

“When we were at school, you were given a piece of wood and shown what to build. Then, the one that made the best came to the front to show it to everyone and got a gold star,” said Mr Harris who attended Sir Philip Magnus School, in Penton Rise.

“James Dyson gave a talk a few years ago where he said we have all the people to make a beautiful box – the design, the artwork – but not what actually goes inside, and I agree.

“People complain about immigration but in eastern Europe they never stopped doing this stuff. Who else is doing the plumbing and building the roads?”

He added: “Many of the models produced today are much easier to put together to appeal to a younger audience, but the fact remains that many model hobbyists are dying off and are not being replaced by younger generations.”

Mr Harris, a national model powerboat racing champion who has competed around the world, owned a car repair business in High Holborn. He blames the congestion charge for killing it off.

He retired but could not resist taking on 308 Hobbies when it came up for sale in 2001.

Initially, business thrived, but Mr Harris said the last six years had seen the biggest change as people began to switch to the internet for purchases.

He tried a website, but lost money on it. Anyway, part of the joy of the job for him had been passing on advice and knowledge.

Now, Mr Harris is ready to sell up and move to Devon to enjoy his hobby into old age.

The café next door, Titanic, has applied to the Town Hall to turn the shop into a pizza restaurant, but Islington Council has refused similar application due to policies about how many food outlets the area should have. “I would’ve loved for someone to keep it as a model shop, but it’s just not been possible,” Mr Harris said.

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