Food can do more than fill bellies, it can provide the recipe for communities to come together to beat poverty and include some of the most marginalised in society. That’s the view of Cafe Van Gogh owner Steve Clarke.
Take a seat in his South London eatery – so-called because it is just around the corner from where Vincent van Gogh lodged in the 1870s – in the grounds of a church and it’s immediately clear that it is not your average spot for a quick bite.
The cafe offers a place of work for people with learning disabilities, mental health problems, special needs or for ex-offenders. All the profits are poured back into the business to cook up classes for struggling parents identified by LEAP (Lambeth Early Action Partnership) to beat food poverty, work with job coaches or workshops on gardening and more.
Originally from Denton in Manchester, Steve has never forgotten the community spirit he fostered up north before moving to London 24 years ago.
A sounding board for ideas and a shoulder to cry on.
“It creates community and that is something that I think is missing in London,” Steve, explains. “One of the plus points of all of this is that it would be nice if people can develop a few friendships. We’re trying to address social needs really. A bit of this is about being a Mancunian in London and recognising that it is different. I can see what’s missing in this city and I’m not able to solve that single-handedly – I wouldn’t even be able to make a drop in the ocean – but improving community relations is a good, quick and easy win I think.”
Perched in the corner of the cafe you can see Steve lending an ear to every problem, a sounding board for ideas and a shoulder to cry on.