We have launched the Big Leaf Football team. Or indeed teams, because last Saturday we had two of them, and both got through to the semis, which for a first outing is brilliant...
We just managed to bring everyone together for Iftar before Eid began. Our wonderful and brilliant volunteer chef arrived with vats of lentil soup, salad, lamb and okra stew plus an array of desserts. How she does it every time we don’t know. And the kitchen was full of old and new faces, of different nationalities, different religions, some fasting, some not...
It was the best sort of day for the proverbial messing about on the river. We were finally able to put our conversations with Surrey Canoe Club into action, and handed over 10 young people to the capable hands of Head Coach, Albert Donovan, for the day...
Our pilot Cafe Project came to an end on Wednesday, and we can say without hesitation we went out on a high. Despite the pouring rain, the place was buzzing with people and the half term brought in the kids too, which had a wonderful effect on the sales of hot chocolate. What stood out today was the enthusiasm to get out front and talk to the customers, in total contrast to the kitchen-hugging that was happening in the first few weeks...
What a difference a week makes. In direct contrast to the torrential rain of last Wednesday, today there was only sun. Jo threw cloths over the tables under the wisteria and all was instantly transformed into the Guildford riviera.
We were chuffed to have special guests with us all day too. Tom and Grace from Marlborough College School of English and Culture came down to help prepare them to apply for the Al Rashid scholarship - a life-changing opportunity for a young person of refugee or asylum background to take part in one of two summer residential programmes based at Marlborough College...
The weather was vile on Wednesday and relentless torrents of rain meant the people of Guildford were not on the streets. Taking plates of samples outside to lure people in, while successful last week, was impossible; the falafel would have turned to soup in seconds. Vicki and I were looking without enthusiasm at the planned walk to local businesses to deposit our newly crafted flyers, when we were delighted by the surprise arrival of Akira, who is always a great hit with everybody...
Our third day of opening the cafe and we were hesitant. Unlike week one, we hadn’t bribed our friends to come and Be Customers, and unlike last week, we didn’t have a captive audience of 65 people wanting to eat. External circumstances had also occurred which meant a sudden rearrangement of plans, the last minute luring in of an extra pair of hands (thank you again, Louise) and a bit of thinking on the spot. But we opened on time, and after a nail-biting 15 minutes of silence from the world outside, people began to drift in. S suggested taking out some samples and offering them to passers-by, and since it is not possible to eat Muhammed’s falafel and not immediately fall in love with it, that worked. The cafe buzzed; some people came, sat and chatted; some dashed in and got food to go; we even had a runner taking a break to refuel. A gentleman from Wales came in by accident, fell into conversation with one of the waiters, mentioned the fact that he had never eaten falafel before and found himself compelled by the utter shock on that young person’s face to try it.
We’d started the day with a cultural literacy workshop, focusing on polite interaction with customers (“Do take a seat” instead of “Sit!”; “It’s coming right up” instead of “You must wait”; “Spread the word!”; “See you again!”, all this sort of thing, followed by the endless question of WHY we don’t have a neat little equivalent of "Bon Appetit”) and all of this interaction was put into practice. As a tool for language expansion, the project is reaping rewards already. The customer who declared “Well, that knocked my bloody socks off” caused some confusion, but it was soon ironed out. “Why is knocking socks off a good thing?” B asked, but frankly, we couldn’t answer.
We sold out. And as we all sat down to eat together at the end of the day, L pointed out that there was only one left. Which turned out to be a shame for the gentleman from Wales who’d never had falafel before, because he had come back hoping for another portion, just as L had swallowed it. “But you can come next week” L told him, encouragingly. “It might be a bit far, lad, from Swansea” the gentleman mused “but you never know. It was a smashing lunch.”
We’re open again next Wednesday 12.30-14.30. And this time we can take bulk orders in advance, for pick up at the Electric Theatre. Please contact us on email@example.com for more information.
Images © Big Leaf Foundation
We were so chuffed to be part of the I Speak Music networking event yesterday. From a fairly gentle opening service last week to an auditorium full of hungry people on a late lunch in just one week... is pretty good going.
And the team looked like they’d been doing it for ever. Coffees and teas came thick and fast with no mistakes, and some of them even took courage to chat to the guests over the counter, leaning on the bar in conversation like seasoned landlords. Language development is such a crucial part of the Cafe Project, that these snapshots of interactions create joy for us. Likewise, the pleasure they expressed on spotting the familiar face of our Youth Intervention Officer from the police. We have worked together on several occasions, PC J and I, aiming to address the (entirely understandable) fears and misgivings many of our young people hold towards the police, mostly stemming from distressing experience in other places. Yesterday, however, the arrival of this particular officer caused nothing short of delight.
Muhammed, our Lord Falafel, and Jo, our Electric Theatre rod and staff, were as ever calmly brilliant and it all ran without hitch. Vicki and I were struck by the perfect falafel shapes emerging from the pan. I did try my hand at making one, but it flopped out such a distinctly odd and unappetising shape that J rolled his eyes at me, and said it looked like “something in toilet”. He then demonstrated how to use this magical little falafel gadget properly, but with such deft sleight of hand that I still have no idea how it is done. Still, overall, the only real snag of lunch was for the people looking hopefully, craftily and yet completely in vain for seconds, and that is a good thing, for us.
It was a pleasure to be able to run a training workshop for all the musicians - a happy, hilarious and hugely talented bunch who proved to have great multilingual skills. And the presentations from our great friends Jim at Surrey Music Hub and Darren at Crisis Classroom, and from Davina at the Arts Council, Jennie at the Academy for Contemporary Music and Surrey Police were both fascinating and thought-provoking in turn. We were honoured to be able to share the stage with them and incredibly grateful for all the positive feedback about Big Leaf Foundation, and the many offers of support.
For us though, the highlight was this: one of our Cafe Project participants took a deep breath and stepped onto the stage himself, to address the audience and introduce the project, and did so with such confidence and eloquence, that not only did he earn the loudest burst of heartfelt applause, but our workshop partner, Denise, who had worked with them on vocal confidence only last week, had to claim hay fever as the reason behind her sudden dive for tissues. Sorry to out you, Den, but your reaction sums it up.
The Cafe Project will be running again next Wednesday from 12.30 - 2pm. Please let us know if you plan to come - we might be able to bag you a riverside seat.
Images © Big Leaf Foundation
We opened, people came and we sold all the food. So that was a pretty good start day, all told.
We started early with barista training - 8 different drinks, with varying forms, from one machine, made by 7 different people was a reasonable challenge, but it also produced a lot of coffee. A general (and correct) consensus that we shouldn’t waste anything, and an enthusiasm for ensuring that I tasted everyone’s samples (“You tried R’s cappuccino and not mine!”) did however mean that by late morning I was 8 coffees in and temporarily able to match the boundless energies of the group.
Then Muhammed arrived and the roles were assigned. Pretty much everyone wanted to be in the kitchen, safely away from having to use English to a bunch of strangers, so we drew lots. The kitchen crew headed off, relieved and beaming - the reluctant front of house group looked nervous and waited hesitantly. There was a lot of last minute scribbling in notebooks of greeting phrases, and types of coffees, and a quick rehash of pronunciation of certain ingredients (especially after one bewildered customer asked with whether we were really selling something made from little yellow chicks and was it an Easter special?) and there were also a few attempts to hide as the first customers arrived, but within minutes, things were running just fine.
Of course there were hiccups, but not many. One cup of coffee was served ice cold, and none of us is quite sure how. One of our team came to me in panic having no clue what “lemonade” could be. Someone accidentally said “chicken piss” instead of chick peas and, on clarification, was appalled at his own mistake (even though it had of course utterly delighted his friends, and the customer). But that’s fine; you simply cannot learn another language without moments like these.
There will be a fair few changes for next time. After everyone had gone we went through the feedback slips and looked at what we could implement. From now on, we will let people choose their accompaniments by setting up a salad bar behind a protective screen and having two people serve. More interaction, more language practice, and that works for me, if not so much for them. We will also be able to serve more promptly, now everyone knows what they are doing. And since three people asked for dessert, we might even set up a baklava station.
All in all, we sold out and everyone left grinning. However, the very best thing was how patient and how positive everyone was who came to eat with us today. One young man told me he didn’t know English people were friendly like that and another said he was over the moon that everyone had understood when he had spoken to them. These things mean a lot.
Finally, Muhammed spoke to us all. “Like you, I arrived here with nothing” he said “but I am so grateful to everyone who helped me. There are so many people who will help you too. We couldn’t stay at home, and so we have to make our lives somewhere else. If you have an idea, and you want to do something, focus on that. You can do it, and we can do this.”
A huge thank you from all of us to everyone who made the opening day such a happy experience; to Richard, Akira, Denise, Andy, Jemma and Louise for all the help in the workshops, to Jo for all the smiling serenity around the coffee machine and the till, and to Muhammed for his inspiration, his skills and his incredible secret sauce recipe (which we will never stop trying to discover).
The cafe is closed next Wednesday (24th April) for a private function. But we're open again on May 1st, 8th, 15th, 22nd from around 12 - 2pm. We hope to see you there.
Today started as enthusiastically as yesterday finished. Thank heavens for Louise arriving on time and sorting the teas and coffees. Louise now knows how dangerous it is to ask the evening before if any help might be needed; the answer is always going to be “oooooh, yes”.
With two more joining us today, we go through the ‘whats’ and the ‘whys’ again, and look at language simplicity around pitching the project. Alliteration is popular. “Authentic and affordable”; “delicious food, decently priced”; “fabulous falafel, fantastic price”. The use of language is delightful. One participant reminds us it’s exactly a year since he arrived in the UK, and indeed I remember meeting him so clearly - he couldn’t say a single word. Yet today, he asks if “coveted” would be a good collocation for the word “cost”. It is nothing short of joyful.
Our second session starts with the very brilliant writer, musician, director, performer and generally excellent Denise, who forces us onto our feet and puts everyone through a series of exercises designed to break down inhibitions about speaking to people, and control the breathing when the nerves are up. Tongue twisters, vocal exercises, discovery of everyone’s special talent (Den can do an alarmingly accurate walrus impression; I can close my nose like a camel; M can stick one leg out in front of him and lower himself to the floor and back up again; R can lick his own elbow... and so on) and everyone is noisy and much, much more relaxed.
And so to practise customer service. Den’s game “Difficult Customer; Dream Customer” involves the customer choosing different scenarios, and the participants responding as best they can. “Your falafel is delicious” was greeted with “Yes, I know” from B, though we all then agree that “Thank you - do come again” is probably better. The example of “I don’t like falafel - can I have a burger?” gets short shrift from K (“Go to McDonalds”) and so we discuss the importance of always being positive to gain custom (“We do only have falafel - but why don’t you give it a try?”). When Louise, playing the Difficult Customer says “I forgot my money and I can’t pay” most of them agree that she could be allowed to pay next week because that might bring her back; S, however, is cynical, and demands she gives him her shoes. “She’s pulling a fast one” he whispers to me, and I am so bowled over by the use of idiom, I can only agree.
Over lunch, Andy and Jemma, from a well-known local company, come to give them the chance to practise their pitch on strangers. Two of them are brave enough to try, and Andy and Jemma couldn’t have been more positive. Talking to strangers can be hard enough if strangers have not always been kind. Doing it in a second language adds another layer of difficulty.
One more protracted debate over the horrors of hairnets, and one apron trying-on session later and we are pretty much ready to go. We will open tomorrow at about 12.30 at the Electric Theatre in Guildford. We have no idea whether we will sell out, or have no customers at all.
As A said earlier, that is all part of the fun.
Huge thanks to Louise, Denise, Andy and Jemma for all your help today, and to Jo at the Electric Theatre for her continued unflappable brilliance.