Diary

The Battle to save London’s local cafés

We all have a local coffee house that plays an instrumental role in our day-to-day lives. It’s there for us when we are at the most sluggish stage of our morning. It sorts us out with a bacon butty and a decent cup of tea, usually for just under a fiver.

It’s a much-needed pit stop as we venture to work every morning, but since COVID has turned our 9-5 society upside down, we no longer have a need to stop by our local café. In fact, at all possible costs, we have become a society keen on avoiding the grubby greasy spoons. Mainly out of fear for their surfaces potentially being riddled with COVID-infused coffee stains.

It would be foolish of me to try and speak on behalf of the nation’s cafés. I can, however, relay the concerns of one owner, who just happens to run my local café.

I went in for a morning coffee and, while the owner was opening up shop, we had a little chat, like most people do, about COVID. He proceeded to tell me how, after running the Riverside Cafe (Lambeth Pier) for 11 years, he’d never hit such hard times. The owner talked candidly about how, on average, he used to get around 2,000 customers a day. Now, he says he’s lucky if that number reaches 100.

Keeping up with the rental payments on the café is proving to be an ordeal, and it’s even resulted in the poor guy having to dip into his savings accounts and even university funds. As I perched myself on the bar stool, I sat there gazing around at the photos on the wall. It appeared as though this café was a famous little nest for politicians getting their morning brew. The pictures ranged from John Prescott and Nick Clegg to a smattering of A-list celebs and actors.

This little old shack that sits peacefully on the corner of Lambeth Bridge will be my go-to coffee and breakfast pit stop, for as long as they are up and running. Because when the Government talks about trying to get people back to work and seeks to restore society to normality, this is what I believe they are trying to get at.

It’s about small, independently-run coffee stores, eateries, burger vans and market stalls. Their business relies on footfall. They need the 9-to-5 city worker, taxi driver or construction manager to stop in for breakfast and lunch – otherwise, what’s the point? Cafés like the Riverside Lambeth will collect cobwebs, and very soon they will blend into all the other boarded-up shops that have fallen at the hands of this wretched pandemic.

So, if you don’t want to wake up one morning and see that your local café or bakery isn’t opening its doors, then do what you can now. We might all still be working from home, but that doesn’t stop us from walking a few hundred yards in our slippers to grab a bacon bap and a cup of tea. You never know, if enough of us do it, we may just save them from closure.

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