We caught up with the fabulous Ruth Rogers from the Canvas Cafe on Brick Lane, London.
So Ruth, tell us a bit about the Canvas Cafe and how it is a social enterprise.
The Canvas Cafe is about supporting creative and social innovation in emotional health and wellbeing. What that means is that we have walls covered in questions.
These questions invite people to think about happy memories, happy times or to think aspirationally into the future. Everyone is invited to write their thoughts, secrets and stories on the walls.
So you’re a cafe with a psychological wellbeing dimension - we like the sound of it!
The walls create a sense of ownership and belonging which is vital for wellbeing, but secondly it brings a sense of community here at the Canvas Cafe.
What else do you have there?
We have a ‘Pay it Forward’ scheme, where you can buy a coffee or a drink or a meal for someone who can’t afford it. We can feed and water the homeless here - one guy came in and he said that he couldn’t believe that the pay it forward scheme was real, and he had a coffee, and a meal.
Then he went to the free meditation that was in the ‘Museum of Happiness’ that is also in the Canvas Cafe, and he said he felt for the first time in years that he felt like he belonged somewhere, and that he found a community, so we see him all the time now!
What an inspiring story! You also hold events here, don’t you?
We hold lots of events here, but everything has an emotional wellbeing and mental health ‘ethos’ behind it. One of my personal favourites is a supperclub called Mike’s table, which is a ‘pay it forward’ event.
On the first night, everyone pays to have a meal - the chef gets paid, the venue gets paid, and on the next night everyone donates their time - we donate the venue, and the guests from the first night pay it forward so 30 people can come along and have a free meal. The people who are invited are anyone that’s really struggling, or having a difficult life; they could have mental health problems, they could be homeless or a refugee, they come along and they get a restaurant experience. So many people have said it’s the first time they’ve been out in years.
You also work with Action for Happiness - tell us about them...
They’re a global charity and their patron is the Dalai Llama. A few years ago they had an idea to create a network of happy cafes - and the idea behind this was that the cafes were in line with the Action for Happiness ethos which is to create a happier world. When I heard about this I contacted them and said ‘I think we already are one!’ because we were already doing all of those things.
We became London’s first ‘Happy Cafe’ in 2015.
Have you got some advice to anyone starting out?
It’s incredibly difficult running your own business, and if I wasn’t a social entrepreneur, I don’t think I’d be still doing it because there’s points where you think ‘I can’t do this anymore’, but when you have a greater purpose that’s besides your own selfish needs as a human, that’s what keeps you going.
Who inspires you?
Anita Roddick - I think she was a social entrepreneur without even realising it- if you think about what the Body Shop achieved, you don’t think of the product, you think of the work that she did.
Any tips to inspire others?
I think it’s easier for us, as social entrepreneurs in a way, because we have a purpose. So when you wake up and feel like you don’t want to keep going, you know you have to, because you’re making a difference in the world.
If you feel that you can’t make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito - that’s the difference that one person can have. And as a consumer, you can choose to shop socially and ethically. You really do have that power. Even if you don’t want to set up your own social enterprise, you can shop socially. Go to your boss and ask them to set up a CSR programme for your work.
You can visit the Canvas Cafe at 42 Hanbury Street, off Brick Lane - come and say hi!