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Finsbury Park 'death café' founder appeals for a new free venue to keep 'valuable resource' going

PUBLISHED: 19:40 06 January 2020 | UPDATED: 19:41 06 January 2020

Finsbury Park 'death cafe' founders Liz Wong (L) and Caroline Dent at Blighty Coffee. Picture: Sophie Inge

Finsbury Park 'death cafe' founders Liz Wong (L) and Caroline Dent at Blighty Coffee. Picture: Sophie Inge

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The Finsbury Park Death Café might be forced to close if its founders can't secure a new free venue.

The café which is run by end-of-life doulas allows participants to talk about mortality over a cup of tea and a slice of cake, and is thought to be the longest-running one in London.

Participants have met upstairs at the Blighty Café in Blackstock Road for the past four years - but this Wednesday's meeting might be the last because its owner can no longer afford to waive the £90 hire fee.

Devastated co-organiser Caroline Dent, 61, of Upper Tollington Park, told the Gazette: "They need to make money and we cannot pay a hire fee, for the simple reason that we are not allowed to charge an entry fee for death cafés.

"This is stated within the death café guidelines and is because Jon Underwood who began the movement wanted them to be open to absolutely anyone, regardless of income, and we believe that is important too."

Caroline believes the cafe is a valuable resource which gives people a space to talk about the taboo subject without feeling awkward, and has appealed for anyone who can offer a free space in Manor House or Finsbury Park to come forward.

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"We feel that we serve the community and we are all doing this without any financial remuneration," she said.

"Over four years people have said it is better than therapy. I feel absolutely passionately that we need these spaces in our communities, a bit like we need the Samaritans really.

"I had anxiety about death as a child which has led me on this path to working with the dying at the end of their life. When I was young there was no one to talk to about the fear of death, and feelings about death, and it took me years to find a doctor who was willing to talk to me."

She continued: "There are a lot of people who still have death anxiety. We live in a society that has over-medicalised death, and we don't see death around us much any more. Some people of my age have never seen a dead body which is quite remarkable really, so we feel it's really important to create safe spaces in society where people can come along and talk openly. We get grieving people, dying people and interestingly a lot of young people, some of whom who are philosophically minded, or have lost someone."

Taken from the Swiss model Café Mortel, started by the sociologist Bernard Crettaz, the concept was brought to the UK by Jon Underwood in 2011, and there are thought to be about 70,000 cafes set up in 60 countries.

"The problem is in inner city London it is very very difficult to find free spaces," she said.

"People often suggest church halls but I feel it's not the best place, because the association with religion would put a lot of people off."

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