One of my favourite quotes from Jewish sacred sources suggests that we should always have two pieces of paper in our pockets. On one, is written, ‘the world is made for me’ and on the other, ‘I am but dust and ashes’. It resonates with me strongly at the moment that it is OK to hold two, perhaps conflicting, ideas at the same time.
Today I spent most of the day with an incredibly good friend, who was, not so coincidentally, the same wonderful lady who first introduced me to the world of asylum seekers and refugees in Leeds as mentioned in a previous post. She very kindly agreed to being my co-researcher so we started off the day in what is fast becoming my favourite local coffee hang out- Cup&Saucer in Chapel Allerton (part of the Opposite coffee houses in Leeds ) where we enjoyed a very good catch up over an espresso and soya latte:
Most tables were occupied, and we were all roughly a similar demographic and social class. There were two guys on laptops immersed in their online worlds while enjoying their chosen beverages, and the rest of us were ladies in pairs enjoying a good leisurely catch up. It felt safe, comfortable and highly enjoyable.
From there, we ventured over to the other side of the city, to Armley. For those of you unfamiliar with our wonderful city of Leeds, I think it is fair to say that there aren’t any reasons to go to Armley if it isn’t your neighbourhood. Correction: there weren’t , until about five weeks ago when The Real Junk Food Cafe opened its doors. The concept is phenomenal: all food, in fact everything in the cafe, was free; intercepted before it was destined for landfill or skips. And more than that, there are no prices on the menu. It is completely entirely up to the diner as to whether to put some money, and if so, how much, into the discreet donations box.
We ate a delicious (vegan on request) meal there; crunchy beetroot, roasted new potatoes and a Jerusalem artichoke pomme purée:
However, the experience was completely different to that of our morning coffee stop. The demography was much more varied, with an elderly gentleman sitting at one table, and a young mum with her baby and friend on another. But it was incredibly clear that what they all had in common was a desire to sit in a comfortable environment, enjoy a healthy meal, and observe or join in with the conversations that were going on across the tables. It was also very clear that the target market was not the trendy cafe-going middle class looking for the newest place to part with their cash, but more it was for those local residents who felt unable to afford or prioritise fresh healthy food. I imagine the regulars in Armley would feel unwelcome and uncomfortable over in Chapel Allerton, or in any regular establishment that expects customers to pay, eat, drink and then be on their way.
If the truth be told, we both did feel uncomfortable when we first stepped into the space today. It seemed everyone else knew each other and were on first name terms, and we were very obviously ‘outsiders’. But once we had sat down, it didn’t take long for us to be included in the conversations and feel the warmth and part of the sense of community.
And we were left with the question, ‘is it possible that toastlovecoffee can fulfill the vision of being like both cafés we visited today?’ Can we create that warm and welcoming space for all sides of LS8? Can it hold them all at the same time?