Monday 24 February 2014

The "social" bit

It's clear to my husband, and indeed anyone who knows me, that I am looking for a new challenge.  While I love looking after my son, tagging along as he explores the world, I need to get my brain cranked up.  This is not an unusual feeling for a SAHM, fifteen months into the job, having seen all her other mummy friends gradually transition back into work.   

I've made a few positive moves in that direction over the last few weeks - starting this blog, for a start.  But my main brain-ache is the cafe project.  A project I can really get my teeth into - and which I will hopefully be proud of.

So my cafe business plan is of the social enterprise variety.  I've thought about this a lot over the last few months, and I want it to benefit people living with and recovering from mental illness.  I've been about as mentally unwell as it is possible to be - strapped to a gurney, locked in a ward, out of my mind and out of control.  But I recovered.  I'd like to show the doubters that recovery is possible, and also help others gain employment and find a place to hang out where they feel at home.

But first steps first.  I can't risk my current good health (not to mention my family's stress levels) by rushing headlong into a business lease, huge bank loan and enormous overdraft.  The undiagnosed (manic) me wouldn't have hesitated, would have taken big risks and listened to no one.   But the new me is going to take things a little slower.  The cafe and community space will still exist - but first as a "pop up" concept, rather than a fixed premises.  As my husband pointed out, another benefit of this approach is the chance to pursue the social mission immediately, without the worry of first meeting large overheads.  How can I devote anything to the social aims, if my main worry is to cover my costs? I may not be able to provide full time employment to anyone at this stage, but I will be able to put on events specifically for people with mental health conditions.  I will still be working towards opening a permanent venue, with staff, but if I can make the pop-up a success then I will be in a much stronger position - both to alleviate my family's genuine concerns, and to face potential investors.

[An aside on "pop ups": they have become achingly trendy recently, and in Central London you can't move for pop-up boutiques, pop-up restaurants, pop-up galleries... But I have come to the conclusion that in the cafe context it is just a trendy term for what our mums would call a "coffee morning".  I'm fine with that.]

What might this look like in reality?
- A brand
- An online presence to promote the brand and details of events: email account, Twitter, Facebook page, website
- Regular (monthly, fortnightly or weekly) coffee and cake events
- Regular support groups (to start with, my new PANDAS group for perinatal mental health conditions)
- Guest speakers and workshops.

Now, it just so happens (what were the chances?!?) that a very similar concept has recently begun - just up the road.  I've been in touch with The Dragon Cafe (, and hope to meet with them very soon.  I am really open to the idea of collaborating wherever possible, branching it out into a new area.  I don't want to reinvent the wheel, or encroach on an existing enterprise.  We are all part of the mental health community, and together we can do good things.

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