Thursday, 17 December 2015

Adventures in our Community 'Ashtray'

Outside my favourite Community Cafe, there stands a large ashtray tub. It is approximately 1.5 meters diameter, and 1 meter high. Solid with earth. Similar ones in eyeshot do have some rather plain looking shrubs.

With a flash of inspiration, I decided to plant – something. I cleared the cigarette ends and watered the large tub well over a day or so. What to grow? Fast and easy? Mustard seed worked well in biblical times.... So, some were planted and watered. Fast growing! When I looked round again, there were sprouts appearing. Well, almost. This was when the existing occupants of the ashtray made their invisible existence known and they were apparently hungry. Though never at times when anyone was looking at them!

The mustard sprouts got fairly quickly munched. Presumably much better tasting than cigarette ends. More please! With a subsequent greater weight of mustard seeds applied, the invisible hungry mini critters were either satisfied, or looking for something less hot than mustard leaves.

Thinking ahead, I mused that even though some of the Cafe customers and passing locals expressed interest in this 'agricultural' initiative, it might be useful to also plant something more conventional. That is when the pansy (flower) seeds were used. I soon discovered that these were 100 times slower than mustard seed. Imagination helped.

The local council – street lighting, cleaning, and trees and flowers – were prompted by the Cafe manager and were good enough to also water this tub when they regularly watered other ones nearby.

Time passed. The vegetation still seemed a bit thin so I found even more mustard seed, in some quantity, black type, sold for the benefit of the soil – farming, cultivating etc. This also grew energetically. The pansy seeds had sprouted by now, though were still very shy.

At least the cigarette ends were not coming in so fast! The mustard was certainly now a flourishing bushy cluster and soon would be showing some of its tiny flowers. The pansy plants were now, I think, waiting for next year. But at least, the mustard was making a proud showing, if a little unruly, as apparently mustard is wont to do.

Then one morning, the sun rose over a suddenly, strangely, almost empty tub! What had happened?
The Cafe manager HAD told the official Gardener that 'Hey there are pansy plants there!' and the response was a 'reassuring' It's OK. I'm only clearing the weeds!

Hello, to Ashtray Street once more! It keeps the pavement tidy at least. It was the stuff of comedy, depending on the way you could tell it. Upon reflection it came to mind what ARE 'weeds' ? In nature there aren't any weeds, just things growing. And I suppose it had been a long long time since our friendly gardener had grown mustard and cress on his window sill for fun and to eat.

With a broader view, it occurred to me that if we see our job as truly only doing one single minded thing, then our whole planet might easily become a giant ashtray? Mmm.

There IS good news. During this horticultural exercise, it was learned that officialdom had decided to offer the tubs to the nearby shops, to adopt! Maybe someone was a bit telepathic? 

Happy days!

Saturday, 1 June 2013

The High Street races into oblivion

Bracknell UK may be just another town, but I live here, and events have prompted some thought. The long awaited town centre redevelopment is now becoming real, and the many casualties include the 'Look In Community Cafe'.

This 'Cafe' was created and run originally for older people by Bracknell Forest Borough Council. It was very successful, but was closed in recent years as an unacceptable budget item, however, it reopened after being taken over by volunteers who had quickly organised.

It is, or rather, was, very popular. With more than a third of UK population aged over 50 (ref. 1) it is no surprise that business from over 100 paying customers per day was the norm. These were often with friends, so 'footfall' was greater, say 150.

The 'community' aspect of the cafe was key. People - customers, and volunteer staff - came and were motivated because of this. The minimal number of paid staff also appreciated the community values here.

Comfortable and welcoming, it was a place to look forward to. On occasions I found I could doze off in a corner (and nobody called the police) I could not do that in other cafe's ;-)

This community cafe closed yesterday. Its plans to move locally fell through. It is still looking, hoping, for a new location. It is unlikely to be in the town centre, nor near to the new shopping development (ref. 2).

I am one of the enthusiasts helping to find a new location. I take it that one will be found, somewhere, somehow. So I will be able to sup tea with friends, (or quietly doze off).

But what about the town, the shops, the new shopping centre being built, hoping for a good return on investment? There apparently will be no charity shops, no community cafes. Only undiluted retail units with 'realistic' rents.

Charity shops and community cafes may be at one extreme end of the retail spectrum, but they remind of and symbolise community, heart, compassion, a place that might care.

High street shops are in decline (ref. 3).

Yet even in Bracknell town, run down with many years of creeping closures, the Community Cafe had a thriving 150 users per day - in the town centre. Even when all shops around them were long closed, people STILL arrived!

Community trumps retail?

Until yesterday, when the Cafe finally closed. We will move out of town, keep calm, and carry on. But we will not be those 150 additional people per day that the shopping centre in future, would covet, we will be elsewhere!

Someone is missing a trick. A shopping centre which starts its life after two bus loads of potential customers, every day, are sent elsewhere? It may be unseemly to say so, but - WTF?

I recently had to buy kitchen equipment for home. Some pans were purchased in the town centre (marked down to half price, good luck with profit for that). The purchase was AFTER spending time in the Community Cafe which was my primary reason to be in town anyway. I also bought a high value, premium priced item, the same day, on line. I am an avid computer user, and I prefer to buy online.

The discussion and comment in the Media about the demise of this community cafe has focussed on the traditional view - in so many words - of a place where some wrinklies can selfishly do crosswords in peace and quiet. The discussion completely misses the value of a crowd of people attending for their own purpose, yet in the very location required for retail activity! Think of on line social networking, say, like Facebook for example?

If you have arranged to meet a friend at a certain place or cafe then you have briefly sampled your own 'community' event. Now think of 150 people every day in that location, all available, perhaps with younger family too, available - to shop?

Cart before the horse? Those people make their way there, to their community, NOT for retail. However, when surrounded by retail, shopping will be done.

The internet shouts out that the people attractor, the social aspect, the community, is what is so valuable. On line, the numbers are huge, but still even now, some high profile on line businesses are not yet sure how to exploit the numbers. But what big numbers! What would high street shops give, to be faced with large numbers of customers? How to get big numbers?

Translate some areas of the high street into the bricks and mortar equivalent of Facebook or Twitter or whatever social networking you use. Like - what about attracting a Community Cafe? Ah.

The Cafe closure attracted the press. The reporter noticed that our conversation in the Cafe was continually interrupted by people coming and going, greeting by name etc.

"It is more than a 'cafe' isn't it?"

I posit that such places, in the high street, in a shopping centre or similar, act as an essential seed for attendance at the location.

Historically it may have been less important, but now with such competition, good alternative choices, and less time to go and browse high street shops, the analogue of social networking on line, is the community activity in, say, a community cafe. And I do not mean a big chain franchise with its own agenda, although it may surely have its place.

On line facilities using the internet show how very strong the social aspect can be, almost every on line business tries to add a social networking dimension now.

The high street, so far though, leaves it to chance - with Joe's Cafe, or with Multi Global 'What's your name today?' type of coffee place. It works after a fashion but nothing like a successful happy landslide where, like for the Look In Community Cafe, people have struggled to be there against all odds, without ANY advertising at all!

As far as I can see, the high street is yet lacking appropriate enlightened self interest from redevelopment organisations, which continue to navigate their world using traditional retail philosophy.

To the shops I say
"So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish!" (ref. 4).

1) Demography-uk
2) Look In Cafe to close
3) High streets shrink in 10 out of 12 towns on Mary Portas scheme
4) Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy,_and_Thanks_for_All_the_Fish

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Look In Community Cafe

Long Live the Look In Community Cafe!

The Cafe, a facility for the over fifties, is now up and running, with the dedication and efforts of
paid staff Stewart and Eileen and also
LOTS of helping volunteers!

It is open weekdays and Saturdays, 9.00am - 3.00 pm,
and offers good value refreshment in comfortable friendly surroundings.

Bracknell Town centre, 44 Broadway, near to the main Library and
next to the Citizen's Advice Bureau

Look In Cafe Location.

Phone: 01344 302646

Run for the over fifties, by volunteers:
The Cafe is now run by a not-for-profit company and will soon have charitable status.
Many thanks are due to the energies and enterprise of the directors.
Thank you all!

Please show your support by visiting often,
and telling your friends about it!

If you can, please arrange to help by becoming a Volunteer, either regular or occasional? Just talk to Stewart or Eileen.

Thank You!

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Save the Look In Cafe!

I hear that the wonderful
Look In cafe is to be closed ! Disaster!

This peaceful, dignified and friendly place is a real oasis for us Seniors who make it into town.

I am distraught to find that the Bracknell Forest Borough Council has listed it to close and given notice to the staff.

I attended a meeting last Friday, 22nd Jan. at the Easthampstead Baptist hall. It was well attended, crowded. More and more chairs had to be found. There was a lot of strong feeling to keep the Bracknell Look In cafe.

The petition already has 1000 signatures, and many more are hoped for. If you have not yet signed the petition please do so now! Sign on the paper copy circulating in Bracknell, or you can sign the online petition linked here, but please do not sign both. Thank you!

If you are blessed with the experience of many years, then sign! You are probably using the Look In already.
If you are blessed with youth, please sign!! Years pass quickly and before you know it you will enjoy the Look In. If it is still there. Also, your ageing friends and relatives are using it now. Help to preserve the Look In, for their sakes, and your own.

At the meeting, I sat next to a young man in a hoody who was there because his grandad used the Look In. He said he uses Facebook, and I really hope a Facebook page can be created for this cause.

March for the Bracknell Look In!
The meeting produced many good ideas and these are being acted upon. One was to show our determination and feeling by marching in Bracknell (thanks Christine).

A March has been organised to take place on
Saturday 13th February
(to be confirmed, details to follow
) To date, confirmed,
starting at 10.30am outside the Look In cafe.
Please bring your own placards?
Please be there to support us?

News Coverage:
Campaign launched to save The Look In cafe

Information from the Save the Look In Committee:

Following our successful public meeting of over 100 people on 22/01/10 we have made the following plans.

Step up collecting names on the petition, which is now in excess of 1,000 names.

Ask people to write, phone, email or call on their local councillors expressing their concern at the threat of closure of the Look In and calling on the Council to reverse their decision.

A march through Bracknell Town Centre will take place on
Saturday 13th February, details as follows.
10.30am - Assemble outside Look In Cafe.
March to Bandstand for a few brief speeches and obtaining more signatures for the petition.
March from Bandstand to Easthampstead House ( Council Offices ).
12 noon disperse.
Please bring your own posters to the march.
Present our petition to Councillors Bettison and Birch at Easthampstead House, we have requested that we do this following our march, so far they have not replied.
If they cannot make this date we have suggested they give us another date, so far they have not replied.

We will be contacting them again on this matter.

We wish to submit our petition before the Council Executive meeting on 16th February and if possible talk to the two Councillors.

If there are any major new developments regarding the Look In Cafe we intend to call another public meeting so that users and concerned members of the public can express their opinions.

If no satisfactory solution is found we intend to organise a lobby of the Council Meeting on
Wednesday 3rd March at Easthampstead House
where the final decision will be made.

Clare and Bill Heffill.Terry Pearce. On behalf of the Save the Look In Committee.


More news on Thursday February 4th 2010, from
Bracknell Forest STANDARD
Plea to reduce councillor's allowances and use the money to save the cafe:
Labour leader Councillor Anne Shillcock tabled a proposal that Council members take a 5 per cent cut in their 'pay' with the money saved going to help save the Look In Cafe.
Cllr Alan Ward, executive member for council finance said that the allowances were not excessively high.

Comment: The alowances do not seem excessively low either.

More news from STANDARD:
A meeting has been organised by Bracknell Forest Voluntary ACtion designed for interested parties to discuss possible plans to take over the running of the cafe.
Martin Gilman is organising the meeting on Tuesday next week (9th Feb) at around 10am.
Call Martin on 01344 383518 if you can help.

News coverage:

Cut councillors' allowances to save The Look In

Ray Earwicker, Prospective Liberal Democrat MP, (extract from) Press release dated 15/02/10
Cllr Thompson should stand down over 'Look In' closure, says PPC.

Users of the 'Look-In' have campaigned vigorously against the proposal since it was announced and over 2,500 people have already signed a petition against the closure, which will be presented to the Council at its meeting in March, Over 100 people gathered in the town centre on 13 February to protest against the closure but neither the council's pensioners' champion, Cllr Cliff Thompson, nor any other members of the ruling Conservative group were present.

One of Cllr Thompson's key tasks is to act as an advocate for the needs of local pensioners and ensure that their views are fully taken into account by the council. There is precious little evidence that Cllr Thompson has succeeded in this task during the ten years that he has held this post and his failure to attend the protest meeting has only confirmed that it is time for him to stand down.

Commenting on Cllr Thompson's absence, Ray Earwicker, Lib Dem Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Bracknell, said 'Cllr Thompson should have been present to listen to the views expressed and explain the council's action. There was a growing feeling that community champions existed only to serve the interests of the council and to give the impression it was doing something to address the concerns of residents

Annual reports were required from each of the five community champions that had been appointed (each with an additional special responsibility allowance) but these were rarely debated or even examined in any depth.

In the case of Cllr Thompson, the views of older residents had been consistently rejected or ignored and the closure of the 'Look In' was the last straw. He had been the pensioners' so-called champion for far too long and it was time for him to go.'

(end of extract of Press Relelease)

More News:
Hands off our 'club' say Look In users'
(video, article, picture)

More news:
A youtube video is currently shown on the front of

Youtube link:


There is news that The Look In is to be handed over to a charity based organisation.

A regular Look In user, J. Shute, says

"I don't like the way the council now claims to have "saved" the Look In.
This is hardly true when they have:
1. withdrawn the funding
2. sacked the staff (they say they have not been offered transfers)
3. proposed voluntary control with over 50s losing afternoon access
4. proposed multiple community and youth club use."

More information is awaited


This has come from the save the look in committee:

We will be presenting our petition calling for the Council to keep the
Look In Cafe open, on Wednesday 3rd March at Easthampstead House. It is
important to be there by 6.45pm so that we can catch the councillors as
the go in for the meeting which starts a 7.30pm.

We will have the piper with us and we need everyone to bring a banner,
we will have song sheets.

There is limited space in the public part of the Council Chamber, we
have asked for 25 seats for our people.

The main thing is to collar your councillor and make sure he/she
understands how strongly we feel about keeping the Look In open in its
present form. We do not accept that for less than £60,000 they should
be quite prepared to see it close. Even if an alternative option is
found it doe not let the Council off the hook, the Council have washed
their hands of a vital facility for the over 50`s in our Town.


Terry Pearce
Email from Clara and Bill:

Please forward to anyone you know who may be interested. If you are available you can lobby the councilors to let them know what you
think of their actions to wash their hands of The Look In Cafe.

Meeting at
6.45pm on Wed 3rd March,
with banners & voices at Council Offices Easthampstead House.

The Bagpiper will be there!

[Blog last edited 13.09 hrs Mon 2nd Mar 2010]