Today I’m happy to introduce you to Ruth, founder of The Canvas Café. It’s a creative venue and coffee shop in Shoreditch and London’s first ‘Happiness Café’. You can draw on the walls and share your ideas with everyone else visiting, join in for lunchtime yoga or choir fun, discuss TED talks together – it’s pretty much the best thing ever.
I had the pleasure of asking Ruth a few questions this week. She tells us how she started the Canvas Café and what struggles she had along the way. Is it possible to build community in modern society?
I am the founder and director for Body Gossip, a positive body image charity. At Body Gossip, we encourage everybody to be the best version of themselves.
Back in 2007, I wanted to get people talking about their bodies. That’s why I took my white living room sofa to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I placed it in the middle of the Royal Mile and invited people to write one sentence about their body on the sofa. I was amazed by the honesty, passion and bravery in people’s comments! Being asked to write their thoughts, opinions, secrets and stories on an unusual canvas had really opened them up. It allowed them to feel like their words were part of something bigger.
That’s what gave me the idea for the Canvas Café. It’s a venue dedicated to cheering people up. At the Canvas Café we host our customers thoughts and stories as an ever-evolving piece of live art.
I hope that the Canvas Café feels inviting, welcoming and friendly. We’re trying to give people a really exciting choice of events, most of them for free. The canvas is definitely more than a cafe. We’re a theatre space, workshop venue, pop up cinema, comedy club, and more! There’s still so much more planned, but we’re only six months old (laughs). We want to improve the happiness, confidence and well-being of our community.
The Canvas Café is also London’s first Happy Cafe. We partnered with Action for Happiness and host the charity’s events and courses. In our opinion, we can all improve our happiness by increased connections with others. Finding joy in the small things and doing things for others, that’s important.
The great thing about opening in such a vibrant area such as Hanbury Street and Brick Lane is that the creativity, imagination and energy of our customers. They are all so excited about the Canvas Café and constantly cheer us on. Our customers also have so many suggestions about what we could do around here, it’s great.
Our customers are awesome. They’re friendly, creative, and have such a positive energy. Our team say that they’ve never worked anywhere where they’re getting so many customers coming to the counter to tell them how much they like it here. We have some great regulars already, and people say we offer a really lovely environment for freelance workers who need a creative atmosphere to work, or an inspiring place to hold meetings.
We have one guy who sits in the window and makes balloon animals and flowers for our customers. He says he doesn’t have the ability to words with make people happy, so he does it with balloons instead!
We are all unfortunately becoming more and more disconnected. We’re often so locked to our phones, our emails and social media. I hope that The Canvas Café allows people to experience the now – by writing something on our walls, or by reading the inspiring comments written by other people. We encourage people to be part of something bigger. They’re part of an ever-evolving piece of live art, and I think that has beautiful outcomes. It opens up conversations between strangers, and empowers people’s opinions and ideas.
The biggest struggles are purely that we’re so young. At 6 months old, we’re a baby social enterprise, and we’re all experiencing a huge learning curve as we build The Canvas into what will hopefully be an East London-institution!
But my team is incredible! We are a small, all-female team, and I am so lucky to have such a talented, dedicated and friendly group to help me develop The Canvas and make it the best it can possibly be.
I’ve been lucky enough to receive some amazing advice from other social entrepreneurs. Firstly, everything takes ages – imagine how long you think it will take to open your social enterprise, then double it, then still don’t be disappointed when it takes even longer.
Stick with it – enterprises with purpose take a long time to build.
Don’t rush – if you want to have a long lasting impact, that takes time to build.
Don’t try and be everything for everyone – stick to your guns about what it is that your social enterprise offers, and be consistent.
Look after yourself – surround yourself with a team that you trust, and understand that no one person can be or do everything for their social enterprise. You’re only human – forgive yourself for your mistakes, but also make sure that you learn from them.
Thanks so much Ruth! Learn more about the Canvas Café here. Did anyone of you ever visit?