Laura Willoughby: ‘The sky doesn’t fall in if you don’t drink on an evening out’
- Credit: Mick McGurk
“Our goal is to create a world where nobody feels out of place if they’re not drinking,” says Laura Willoughby MBE, who co-founded Club Soda in 2015.
To that end, this mindful drinking movement offers short email courses, organises social events and even set up a directory to help users find the best low and no alcohol drinks close to them. It's led to the creation of a community of over 40,000 people, ranging from those eager to trim their alcoholic intake to others wanting to cut out the booze completely.
Next weekend, Club Soda will host its seventh Mindful Drinking Festival on Brick Lane, where they'll round up 60 of the best low and no alcoholic drinks brands around right now and invite you to try them for free. There will also be mocktail masterclasses and panel talks to offer insight and advice on the benefits of cutting down.
"There's been a massive increase in sales of alcohol-free beer and spirits," says Willoughby, "it's about bringing all these brands - big and small - in to one place.
"[The festival] has developed and grown each time. This time, we have two days worth of events and an amazing range of panels. We had 10,000 come last January and it's such a great mix of people; those who don't drink for religious reasons, pregnant women, [and] lots of foodies who want something that hits the spot for them. It feels like this wonderful melting pot of London life."
The festival gives those taking part in Dry January a chance to explore this growing market, with bartenders from Lyre's non-alcoholic spirits on hand to whip up your favourite cocktails - with the boozy stuff left out.
Willoughby says people often overlook the benefits of cutting alcohol because they fear "losing their social life."
"But actually, pubs in Hackney and the surrounding areas have a great range of drinks so that you're not stuck with half a pint of coke. There are really beautiful drinks that make you feel a part of the evening.
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"The sky doesn't fall in if you don't drink on an evening out. In a city like London it's not all about the booze; there are virtual reality bars, bars that aren't totally focused on alcohol, park runs, shuffle boarding…"
Aside from joining Club Soda (which is free to do) or scouting out the festival next week, Willoughby says the "first thing to do is plan" if you're considering a period void of alcohol.
"A good thing about a month off is you will learn about your triggers; the people, the places, the emotions that might trigger you to drink. Remember why you are doing this - a lot of people think "I need to cut down" - but they don't know why. What is your goal, mission or intention? [It might be] to spend more time with the kids, trying to get fit, or part of a bigger, wider goal.
"You're more likely to stay motivated if you find a new alcohol-free tipple - use it as a way to explore all the interesting new drinks that are available."
The Mindful Drinking Festival is on January 18 and 19 at Old Truman Brewery, E1 6QR. More details here.