Forget cats, cereal and board games – Hackney’s latest cafe trend is helping the needy

PUBLISHED: 09:00 23 July 2016

Rose Chorlton and Olly Fay at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton (Picture: Polly Hancock)

Rose Chorlton and Olly Fay at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton (Picture: Polly Hancock)


It feels a bit like trendy coffee spots are taking over east London, but Hackney’s cafes aren’t all about cereal, cats and board games. The Gazette visits three establishments who say their coffee has a conscience.

Rose Chorlton and Olly Fay at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton (Picture: Polly Hancock)Rose Chorlton and Olly Fay at the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton (Picture: Polly Hancock)

East London is renowned for having the wackiest concept cafés, from cats to board games and even pay-as-you-go.

But there’s also a boom in cafés with a conscience – social enterprises that give back to the community.

Nicole Danielle Page is one of those ethically-minded entrepreneurs hoping to set up shop in Hackney.

After meeting a 12-year-old boy in an Indian orphanage whose story “struck a chord”, Nicole, from Syracuse, New York, became aware of the difficulties young people face when leaving foster care – not just in India but across the world.

“It really made me stop and consider what’s happening in my country – what’s happening with the kids that are in foster care in the States and now that I’m over here it’s actually the same thing,” says Nicole, 31.

Now she and her business partner Whitney Papa, 28, from Texas, are planning to base their start-up bakery and café Wanderlost in Hackney.

The café will take its staff from the 10,000 young adults who leave foster care in the UK each year.

“In London there’s actually a really high population of care leavers, so it’s made sense to do it here,” Nicole tells the Gazette.

What is a social enterprise?

Dominic Ellison, chief exec at Hackney Co-operative Developments, explains: “Social enterprises are businesses that work to achieve social aims and consider the impact they have on the communities that own them and work for them and the customers they serve.

“People who live in Hackney really identify with the borough so I think people are very keen to support a business which they think is enhancing the area which they live in. I think Hackney has always led in terms of ethical consumers. It’s always been an entrepreneurial borough as well. I think that’s a result of the large amount of immigration we’ve always had and how welcoming Hackney has always been.”

The pair believe care leavers are vulnerable and more likely to face homelessness, unemployment and difficulties accessing further education.

Their goal is to help them become more employable by giving them the opportunity to learn baking, serve customers, manage staff and run a business.

So far both Nicole and Whitney have been juggling numerous jobs in order to fund their blossoming venture, as well as baking pies for cafés and private orders under the guise of “Oh Gee Pie!”.

Their determination has not gone unnoticed. As reported in the Gazette, in March 2016 they won the London Met Accelerator Big Idea 2016 Competition.

Whitney says: “Just to have the validation made us realise this was an idea people were behind.” It propelled them forward and they now hope to buy a proper kitchen space in Hackney by the autumn.

Whitney describes the borough as “a hub of creativity and support”, with “a lot of young people and young entrepreneurs who are starting up”.

“We want to be in an area that’s going to be accessible to these young people who we want to work with,” adds Nicole.

Another social enterprise café helping Hackney’s needy in the right direction is the Trew Era Cafe in Hoxton.

Nicole Page (L) and Whitney Papa from Oh Gee Pie! with their Big Idea AwardNicole Page (L) and Whitney Papa from Oh Gee Pie! with their Big Idea Award

Founded in March 2015 by comedian Russell Brand, it’s on the New Era housing estate and employs six people who have battled drug or alcohol addiction.

Manager Rose Chorlton, 29, explains: “The main aim is to promote and encourage rehabilitation for employment. Everyone apart from me that we employ here is undergoing abstinence recovery.”

By giving them the London living wage, as well as peer support, Rose hopes to motivate people to get back in to the workplace. “Having everyone in a similar situation encourages them and instils them with confidence and self-worth,” she says.

Just over the border, the Canvas Café in Spitalfields holds the name of London’s first “happy café”, a title it was given last year by charity Action for Happiness.

“I like to say we are your happy place,” founder Ruth Rogers tells the Gazette. “We are just all about improving your happiness and self-esteem.”

The café has a packed schedule: as well as free yoga and comedy nights it hosts The Survivors’ Collective, a monthly open forum for survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

The walls are filled with scribbles from visitors, creating a piece of art that spreads upwards, which Ruth says creates a sense of “belonging and ownership”.

“We push community here,” she says.

Ruth Rogers of the Canvas Cafe in Spitalfields (Picture: Felix Clay)Ruth Rogers of the Canvas Cafe in Spitalfields (Picture: Felix Clay)

“In a lonely place like London, that’s important.”

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