Hackney's NANA Cafe recruits the mature and experienced to serve up comfort food favourites
A small cafe in Hackney is aiming to provide its denizens with home-cooked classics from the heart, just like grandma used to serve.
There’s just one small twist, the NANA cafe in Clapton is almost entirely staffed by ‘nanas’ a group of senior retired volunteers who are gelling together to use their time and skills in providing great customer service.
Given a residency by local pub The Elderfield, the venture aims to get senior people back into the community and contributing in a productive way, bucking the cynical stereotypes associated with being past retirement age. Operating as a partnership, a percentage of the cafe’s profit is split between the nanas on a quarterly basis, after an initial three-month period. Yet whilst the monetary benefits are a small incentive, they’re far outweighed by the satisfaction of serving the local community, meeting new people and having fun in the process.
Harris is far from keen on the concept of an idle retirement and believes contrary to the belief that most retirees are either. The cafe offers opportunity for pensioners to put to use the skills and knowledge gained from a lifetime of working, mix with people of all ages and feel visible in their community.
The idea for NANA came after Harris moved to Clapton. A long-term resident of Hackney, she was mindful of the increasing need for social cohesion in the area. As in much of the borough, gentrification continues apace in Clapton and some people are unwelcoming of the changes brought by the influx of newcomers to the area. Trendy cafes, vintage boutiques and a weekly farmers market, have all sprung up within the past couple of years.
A down-to-earth local cafe seemed the natural thing to do, she says. “Talking to friends that have moved to London and had family in Ireland or Scotland or wherever, they miss having that nurturing quality, the place that you go and basically get force-fed lots of carbohydrates, and tea by the gallon.”
Spotting a gap in the market, and marrying this with a desire to help Clapton’s senior residents integrate into the changing demographic landscape, the NANA cafe was born.
The cafe is proving popular with young and senior alike, in particular local mums, appreciative of finding a place where there is space to park buggies, where children may be entrusted to the capable hands of the nanas and in which quality, inexpensive food is available throughout the day. On the menu: dippy egg with soldiers, bottomless mugs of tea, warming bowls of soup, wedges in cake form and the like.
Feedback ranges from compliments that highlight ‘great customer service’ and a ‘lovely atmosphere’ to heartfelt acknowledgement of the cafe’s raison d’etre; as one comment says: ‘this area needs something like this.’
If all goes well, Harris aims to use Clapton as the blueprint for expanding the NANA concept across the country. “There’s so much around that kind of nurturing and loveliness, around the skills of a nana that could be packaged in different ways. The cafe’s just the start.
NANA cafe is currently seeking more volunteers. If you are over 60 and interested in becoming a nana, contact Katie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 07946 542989.
57 Elderfield Road
London E5 0LF