Down Your Way: Head to Hill Top in West Bromwich where shops are thriving
Mark Andrews heads to Hill Top, in West Bromwich, for today's Down Your Way feature.
Tracey Cooper loves her role as a customer advisor at Hill Top Post Office.
She knows everybody, everybody knows her. And when there’s a problem, they know she will go the extra mile to help.
“We play a really important role in the community,” says the 54-year-old, who has worked in the branch for 18 years, and lived in Hill Top all her life.
“I wouldn’t want to do anything else. I’m on first-name terms with so many of the people who come in here.”
She is with 34-year-old Nav Ghatoura, who, along with his family, has kept the convenience store and post office for the past 10 years.
Hill Top is a relatively small suburb, halfway between West Bromwich and Wednesbury, dominated mainly by postwar shopping development.
At the one end is the rather attractive, half-timbered library building, while at the other is a modern housing development and a large care home for the elderly.
“It’s a home from home,” says Nav. “We have got some very loyal customers, you get to know them very well.
“There’s a care home and supported accommodation up the road, and there are a lot of elderly people.
“You get to know them personally and help them when you can we have got to know well over time.”
Tracey has been known to pick some of the elderly customers up in her car if they have difficulty in getting out, and some of the children who come in the post office get a small present at Christmas.
Nav says while it is generally a good place to work, there are a couple of bugbears. In recent weeks the area had been hit by a spate of break-ins – he says the post office’s robust security system probably did its job for his business, and adds that parking is also a problem.
Rob Green is the owner of Robinson’s Bakery, which took over the former Firkin shop in Hill Top five years ago.
He says his shop was broken into a while ago, but despite that it is still a great community to be based in.
And he points out that while high streets elsewhere are having a tough time, Hill Top is actually an area where new businesses are opening.
“You go into West Bromwich and you see boarded-up shops, but there are no empty shops here,” says 38-year-old Rob.
“We’re a through area between West Bromwich, Walsall and Wednesbury, and a lot of people call in here on their way to work.
“We have millionaires come in here, and we have ordinary people, and they all get treated exactly the same.
“We do get a lot of business owners who come here to get their lunch, and we know the companies they own.”
Rob says one of the secrets to that success is having a wide range of products, to suit all tastes and budgets.
“We do wedding cakes starting at £99, but we also do wedding cakes for £999,” he says.
“We do gluten-free and vegan, and we are now exporting.”
Behind the counter is the appropriately named Helen Tart, who says Hill Top is a great place to live and work.
“The local people are quite friendly, they are the salt-of-the-earth,” she says.
Rob speaks of a close bond between the different traders, as he introduces us to his friend and neighbour, Rav Rana, who runs the HS Systems computer store with his brother, Onkar.
Rav, 49, has been in business in Hill Top for 27 years, and speaks of a thriving, tightly knit area.
“We’re a very close community, everybody’s friendly, all the business owners know each other,” he says.
“The best thing about Hill Top is the friendly atmosphere, and it’s also easy to get here. There’s a very diverse retail offering here, even more so since they opened the new shops up the road.”
Onkar, 47, says the computer industry has changed a lot over the years, particularly since the introduction of smartphones.
“Everybody does everything on their phones these days, the technology has changed,” he says.
“It used to be about selling big computer systems and PCs, now it’s much more about the repairs.”
A few doors away, at Hill Top Gents’ Barbers, are owner Saghir Khan and barber Tayub Mohammed.
“I have worked here for two or three years,” says Tayub, who is 25.
“The majority of people who come in here are locals, and are very friendly, you get to know them.
“You do get the odd problem with youngsters standing about on street corners, but it’s generally pretty quiet.”
Across the road, set behind its colourful flower beds, is the New Hen and Chickens bar and grill, which received a major makeover in 2017.
It’s probably not the time of year to be sitting out at the stylish Mediterranean-style garden to the front of the pub, but owner Danny Johal says the stylish Indian restaurant at the back of the pub attracts customers from near and far.
“We have people from all over England,” says the 54-year-old, who has kept the pub and restaurant for five years. You get a mixed crowd in here, it’s families mostly.”
Head waiter Nick Singh adds: “It’s a good area, we have got loyal customers and you get to know some of them.”
A little further up the road, George Pitsillos has kept Hill Top Fish Bar for the past 12 years.
George, 57, says many of his customers have been coming since he opened.
“You have a lot of mostly friendly people round here,” he says.
George says it is a much more tougher industry than when he first opened, though.
“You have got a takeaway on every corner these days,” he says. “There are so many more choices nowadays, you have got the chip shop, pizza, Indian or Chinese. It is much more competitive.”
- Do you think your community should be featured? If so, telephone Mark Andrews on 01902 313131 or email email@example.com