The Story Behind The Space: The Canvas Cafe

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We sat down with Ruth Rodgers, Owner and Creative Director at The Canvas Cafe, to discuss what it’s like running the UK’s first Happy Cafe and the impact that the cafe has had on the community and beyond.

Where is The Canvas Cafe?

The Canvas Cafe is a social enterprise cafe and creative venue just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch. We’re a hub for a community of change makers, providing Space to support social and creative innovation in emotional health and well being. We’ve supported the launch of over 50 new community projects, since our launch as London’s first Happy Cafe in 2015 alongside Action for Happiness. We’re named Canvas because our walls are open for our customers to share their thoughts, ideas, secrets and stories by answering questions linked directing to happiness and community.
a woman writing on a large whiteboard wall which already has lots of writing and doodles on it.

What’s the story behind The Canvas Cafe?

It all started with a sofa! As well as owning The Canvas Cafe, I also founded Body Gossip, a positive body image charity that invites the general public to write and share a story about their body. We turn these stories into live theatre performances and short films, and have published a book too. When I was promoting the concept, way back in 2007, I had limited resources – so I would take my white living room sofa to locations around the country, inviting passers by to write one sentence about their body on the sofa. I soon realised people were being more honest with the sofa than they were being with their friends and family! It gave me the idea of owning a venue where self expression and creativity were the backbone of a welcoming Space that supported its community; and a few years later, The Canvas Cafe was born.
four people writing on the walls of a cafe. There are various chairs and tables in the room.

What is different about The Canvas Cafe?

We are so much more than a cafe! We help feed the homeless through our pay-it-forward wall; we host the Museum of Happiness’ community events programme which offers nightly workshops ranging from singing lessons to art therapy and mindfulness; we are a warm, welcoming Space that is open to everyone, combating loneliness and isolation in London. Everything we sell is homemade, and our menu includes various vegan options including vegan freakshakes.
four colourful logos in a line which are for 'Museum of Happiness' 'Mad Poets Speak!' 'Focal Local' and 'Body Gossip'

What inspired The Canvas Cafe’s mission? 

The Body Gossip sofa was the most direct inspiration but since we’ve opened, I’m inspired daily by the passion of the change makers and their projects that we host here; Mike’s Table is a supper club supporting refugees and Londoners living in hardship ; Mad Poets Speak is an open mic poetry night showcasing the writing of people experiencing mental distress; Focal Local are committed to making this city a smaller, happier place by running events that encourage human connection and kindness. They choose to meet and run their events with us, which is incredibly inspiring.

 a woman sitting on a sofa that is covered in hand written notes

What’s the most unique thing about The Canvas Cafe?

Our atmosphere; it’s magical. So friendly and welcoming.

 a close up shot of a message written on a wall with orange pen the message reads 'thank you for making a place where people matter and where we can express our feelings and words of wisdom to hopefully help others too'

What brilliant things have happened within the Space?

Hundreds of stories have been told and hugs shared; lives have been changed by generosity and human connection; ideas have been launched that bring people together and work towards making the world a better place. There are times when I catch the entire cafe laughing together – customers and staff. Someone recently wrote in a review: “you enter as a patron, and leave as a friend,” which is very true.

 a quirky cafe room with a large group of people all smiling and waving at the camera

 What’s next for The Canvas Cafe? 

We’re going to be renovating our event Space to grow our creative programme, plus bringing some fun and colour to our garden! The team are starting to run their own events too, for example the first Friday of each month is our barista Marta’s jazz jam session from 7-11pm. There’s so much going on already but our plan is to develop a thriving community hub where you can come along at any time of day, and there’s something you can get involved with. Watch this Space!
Yellow Canvas Cafe logo

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