With its eco-friendly ethos, locally sourced produce and weekly drop-in tasty pot sessions, you could argue that the Dee Park café is just what many communities need during a pandemic. We had a chat with café manager, Tina Farrow, to find out how the new Dee Park café came to life.
Tina has previously worked with the Communities team, helping to manage some of their summer programme activities – giving her lots of experience of working with members of the local community.
‘I’d been thinking about starting some sort of community hub for a while. So, when the Communities team approached me in September 2019 to discuss the idea of managing a café on the Dee Park estate, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.
‘Looking back, the opening date (December 2019) was a little ambitious. We agreed to push back the opening until the spring of 2020 – but by then Covid-19 and a nationwide lockdown was underway.
”I thought that the funding might be pulled, and it wouldn’t happen, but Tina and Johannah from the Communities team worked their socks off during lockdown to make sure it did.
Tina faced many challenges trying to kit out a new café during a global pandemic. But with the support of the Communities team keeping her motivated, she overcame lots of hurdles.
But the impact of Covid-19, wasn’t just affecting her business. Tina said, ‘We had everything agreed with a local wholesaler to supply most of our produce but then came the shocking news that they couldn’t continue their business because of the impact of Covid-19 on local trade. They were a long-term locally based company, so I felt miserable for them.
‘I knew I couldn’t get down and I had to remain grateful that we were still in the lucky position of being able to carry on with our venture’.
The café opened in October 2020, with Tina single handedly running things and making sure that government guidelines were closely followed. Shortly after opening, the Communities team arranged funding for two new members of staff to support Tina – Gabriela the café’s own Venezuelan pastry chef, who lives locally and works part-time, plus another member of the team who will be joining them very soon.
For Tina the cafe is about having a community space that provides somewhere for people to meet and celebrate the area.
‘We want to make a positive impact on the community and the environment. Our coffee is locally sourced; all our food is cooked from scratch onsite, using fair trade and organic produce and as little plastic as possible. We’ve even had local artist, Lisa Marie, contribute to the café with art, colours and plants too.
‘When people start talking about organic produce it can all start to sound quite expensive, but making money isn’t what this is about. The Dee Park café is a community interest company, which means all profits cover wages and bills. We think we’ve got the balance just right – we’re making good healthy food that is both ethical and affordable too’.
Dee Park Café also works closely with other community initiatives. Tina said, ‘We’re working with Thames Valley FairShare, who supply us with surplus supermarket ingredients to help us make big batch meals, such as shepherd’s pie and Thai green curry. Customers can enjoy and give what they can towards the cost. We’re also doing tasty pots, where people can bring their own containers to take their food away.
‘It’s a real mixture of people in the Dee Park estate, with some Catalyst and council residents. I’m really pleased with how positively everyone has welcomed us to the neighbourhood. We’re still settling in and getting to know everyone in the area, but it already feels like we’re building a community network from the café, which is fantastic.
‘The whole experience has been really inspiring so far. The right people have come along at the right time and shared ideas on how to pull everything together. I want to say a huge thanks to all our customers too, we hope you’re enjoying it as much as we are’
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