In June 2020, I returned to my small town in Spain following a travel trip that had taken me away for ten months. Spain had just emerged from the first and very restrictive lockdown due to Covid, where residents of my town had to remain in their homes and were allowed only essential trips to supermarkets and the brief dog walk.
I had just left the Uk where the restrictions had not been so forceful. Coming home to face the after-effects of a town coming to terms with life during a pandemic was somewhat soul-destroying. I sat in the square listening to the church bells. The local bank had just opened its doors to the small queue of customers waiting in the sun to get money from the machine but shop shutters remained firmly shut. What was the point of trying to open if people are too scared to come out? There was a sense of why bother attitude from people trying to work. How were they expected to fight a pandemic, and still find ways to pay their rents and taxes? What must it be like for the business owners to look at their staff and tell them they no longer have any work for them?
Sitting alone in a half-empty cafe sipping my hot cafe con Leche, I thought about an article I had written in Krakow Poland, entitled Krakow table Tales. It was about a cafe owner who forcefully had his business taken from him by the Nazis during WW2 and then again by the Russian communists, post-war. His cafe was returned to him years later. To build a business and then lose control of everything you have worked for will undoubtedly create a rise in mental health problems.
I have written a lot in small cafes. For me, they are the perfect places to inspire creativity. I wrote a whole book from a bar in Thailand, wrote articles in a cafe called Brown Bites in Jaipur India, and created some of my best writings for my first novel from a cafe called Delany’s in my own town. If there is nowhere to go, will my inspiration die along with a lot of other creatives who use them? Cafes are essential to a community but sadly with a pandemic, some of the shutters in my town and across Spain will remain shut as smaller local businesses and bars will just not be able to keep their heads above water, forced to watch their businesses go down the drain. The businesses that they and often their families, sweated to build.
According to data from the Spanish Federation of hotel and restaurant catering, 267,000 jobs have been lost in 2020 within the bars and restaurant sector alone. I call a friend out for coffee. Please come and join me I ask her. We need to support these struggling coffee bars. There is a crisis coming, far worse than a pandemic. I have my own selfish reasons. These places must not close. Cafes throughout history provide an extremely important role in the social health of a community. I cannot bear the look on the faces of these worried cafe owners.
There is more to a cafe than coffee and a place to eat.
They are the center of social life for many towns and neighborhoods, a rendezvous spot, a place to hold a celebration, network your business, or simply catch up with a friend who needs a shoulder to cry on. The cafe terrace is a place to sit mindfully watching the world go by whilst you simply work out where your life is going next.
No wonder famous writers TS Elliot Gertrude Stein and f Scott Fitzgerald created work from coffee shops. JK Rowling created much of her early work on Harry Potter whilst writing amongst the hub of coffee dwellers at the Elephant House in Edinburgh Scotland.
In 1897 Els Quatre opened in Barcelona by Pere Romeu. A modernist building. The owner wanted to create a cafe that should be known, not only for good food and drink but for creating food of the spirit, a place with an enticing ambiance for artists to meet and discuss their work. A young Pablo Picasso would frequently be found there.
Cafes have an essential part to play for a community in crisis. It can offer a safe haven for many people. The lonely who can meet friends, the place where workman hear about somebody looking for an electrician. These places breed life into a community and they MUST NOT be allowed to go down a drain in despair.
AS ALWAYS, I get a bee in my bonnet.
I have nothing to do (CRAZY STATEMENT) I find myself saying to a cafe owner, I can help. My mission – to get people to come together in a cafe setting. To offer some hope and inspiration to the cafe owner that there is new business out there. ‘Let’s do some events,’ I say. Please don’t pay me, this is me rolling up my sleeves and doing what I love doing, We can all be winners. You stay in business and I get a better social life. The first event sold out in two hours. Wow! people really need this, I thought.
I did not realize how much I loved doing this. I have always loved hosting events. As a child I watched my mum bring people together, I guess it is a natural passion. Through helping a local cafe/restaurant to entice in more customers by using some creativity, it has certainly paid off, Not only for them but for me too. I have a welcoming place to go and do my writing.
Through organizing the events, I have met some incredible people, from nutrition experts to other writers, artists, and business coaches. A regular monthly discussion group will hear the opinions of the locals, and a walkers breakfast will encourage their guests to keep moving and develop a healthy eating attitude. The ideas keep on flowing. Looks like we have a new Spanish teacher to help the ex-pat community improve their language skills, enhancing the integration between Spanish and non-Spanish locals. There is talk of doing new menus and enlarging the kitchen. The other day a local man remarked to me, ‘It’s a popular place here, isn’t it? he said with a happy grin, It was his 80th birthday and he was there with a group of friends. I loved that.
My son asked me why I bother working for free. The reasons are above.
Support your local, it is so important, for the price of an extra cup of coffee these community givers will stay in business. It is not all doom and gloom out there and we can all offer a helping hand towards recovery. If 260,000 people have lost their jobs, this is my way of doing a small part.
What can you do? Start with inviting a friend for lunch and discuss putting the world to rights. Today I have just met some customers who want to help with the events. One lovely man has just offered to loan me a projector, Another person has offered to sing some 60’s music and to help decorate the venue. Communities who work together, stay together.
Soon I shall be traveling again, I have itchy feet. What is next on the horizon, I cannot say when. Sustainable travel and a new business in organic products seem to be taking over some brain cells. But the essence is growing and I shall stay in touch. That is the beauty of social media.
For now, I am thinking about what to have for breakfast.
Have a great day and please leave a comment, I would love to hear your stories.