Suspended Coffee - a personal perspective from Lloyd Jeans

Wednesday 8 May 2013

A record and appreciation of how Forest Gate went viral, recently

Membership sign of
Suspended Coffee scheme
It was during the week leading up to Easter that Mic Clarke, one of the four proprietors of Forest Gate's newest cafe, CoffeE7 at 10 Sebert Road, asked my friend, Rod and I: "Have you heard of Suspended Coffee?"

Neither of us had, but the idea, he explained, was simple: a cup of coffee paid for in advance as a small, anonymous, act of kindness. If a customer felt so inclined, then the price of a second hot drink could be handed over, recorded on a list, displayed on the wall, and later claimed by someone who could not otherwise afford it.

The scheme gets approval in CoffeE7
The "Caffe sospero" tradition began a century ago in the working class cafes of Naples, and quickly became a symbol of grass root social solidarity. The idea sounded just right to Rod and I, who must be in contention for CoffeE7's most regular customers, so we said would support the scheme, as and when we could.

It was over the following 48 hours that we witnessed first-hand the amazing power of the social media. Two of the younger members of staff, Tom Graysham and Dan Hyland, noticed the scheme mentioned on Facebook and brought the idea to work with them the next day. 

It was discussed, approved and launched, and Nigel King was the first customer to participate.  It didn't take very long for the initiative to be picked up by the news media.

Independent on Sunday - 3 April,
the start of the press frenzy

Meticulous press photographer
 captures coffee maker at work
The Independent on Sunday was first off the mark. Manager, Hettie Clarke, gave a telephone interview and on 30 March, photographer, Jason Alden, arrived to snap the hands of Rod.  At 7.20 the next morning BBC Breakfast News chose the story as one of four featuring on their newspaper review.

Time Out was next to feature the scheme, on 9 April, followed by the Evening Standard and over our very own Newham Recorder.  The on 16 April came BBC voice journalist, Suraj Patel, whose carefully edited item appeared on BBC News 24, on 24 April.

Time Out and the Evening Standard follow with press coverage
The response was phenomenal and all positive. Here is a selection of some of the 50 plus tweets sent to @Coffee7FG  on the day of the broadcast:

"Brilliant idea ... CoffeE7 is on the news ... Forest Gate truly is the new Dalston! ... good to see CoffeE7FG leading the way ... Great stuff ... Wow @coffee7FG's famous! ... Good PR guys ... fantastic initiative ... nice piece on a nice idea ... how brill!! ... keep up the good work ... Hettie doing a fab job on BBC News ... Forest Gate is the news! ... And for something wonderful!! ...@coffee7FG is doing so much for the community in so many ways ... good little film here ... stupidly proud of @coffee7FG and how they are helping build our community."
I am one of those who worry about the impact of social networks and computer technology on the ability of humans to operate together in the real world, to build real relationships and create that sense of connectedness essential for a healthy neighbourhood.  

But this example of viral networking has worked so well because it is centred on a physical space made by the hard work, time, money and emotional energy put in by the group of friends who opened CoffeE7 on 1 January 2013.

A comfortable cubby hole for
 meeting and chatting in CoffeE7

An interesting bike wheel chandelier,
 another unique aspect to the cafe
We all long to belong, and love the idea of an urban village. This is to do with the strength of a sense of place, particularly in Forest Gate, which is probably the most diverse place on the face of the earth.  

Our residents have come from everywhere, and nowhere, and there can be a damaging tension between the diversity of multi-culturalism and the social solidarity necessary to make our neighbourhood a happening and more creative place in which to live.

The Suspended Coffee scheme works so well because it involves locals doing a small good deed for their (perhaps temporarily) less fortunate neighbours.

Vic - an early participant and beneficiary
 of the Suspended Coffee scheme
One such is Vic, a Scot with a chequered history, who lives in Windsor Road, on the Woodgrange estate. When he has the money, he pays for himself, but this morning he could muster only 23 pence.  He had heard about the scheme on the radio, and was happy to ask for, and receive, a suspended mug of tea.

He spends his days tramping the streets of Forest Gate, searching for items in which the police might be interested.  This morning he was on his way to the station with a discarded, but payable, cheque for £300, and a collection of Olympic Park security passes.  He said the police were always welcoming, particularly when he - all too often - found a knife or a blade.  

What pleased him most was to be able to hand over a bag; the cash and cards might be gone, but mostly there were photographs and other irreplaceable items remaining, which the police could return to the grateful victim.

So, well done, CoffeE7 for doing so much in the on-going revival of Forest Gate.

CoffeE7 prepares for the good weather
 - Cafe society reaches Forest Gate!

Coming along with plans for a back garden cafe area

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