Monday, 29 August 2016

Find big cities impersonal? Visit Radnor Gardens Cafe in London for that warm community feel.

Big cities can seem overwhelming to those of us who live in smaller, quieter places but I realised many years ago that they are in fact just a collection of villages joined together.  The first time this occurred to me was when I was in Tokyo staying at a multi storied youth hostel.  In the evenings I liked to wander up a side street and it didn't take long before I noticed that the locals knew each other, that eateries were crammed with family groups sharing conversations across tables and that shop keepers were gossiping with regulars, all in central Tokyo.  I loved it and since then no big city has been intimidating to me...I just break it down and get to know and enjoy each locality.  Of course central business districts are generally soulless places but get out into the residential areas and things change, even close to the city centre.

Have coffee while you watch your children play

The delightful Radnor Gardens Cafe at Strawberry Hill, Twickenham in London is a prime example of "community" in a big city. Owners, Mike and Marcus took the lease on a council owned cabin in the park back in March this year.  Their aim was to create a friendly cafe where locals could meet, have coffee, or a meal, and a chat and get to know each other. It is not a glitzy, chrome and glass type of place and that is part of its charm. In order to create a welcoming, homely, environment fresh flowers are placed on the tables each day and various games and a table tennis table are available to patrons. Warm shoulder wraps are also provided for cooler days. The cafe is adjacent to a safe fully fenced children's playground allowing harassed parents a sit down and a cup of coffee while still keeping an eye on their offspring. Mike and Marcus have obtained a license to serve wine and beer for a certain number of  days in summer so have run a series of barbecues on long summer evenings.  My son and his family live across the road and told me what a pleasure it was to meet with neighbours at one of these evenings and to have somebody else cook the food and pour the drinks! 

On my recent trip to England I enjoyed many a time at the cafe even a delicious bacon sandwich for breakfast on my last day. It was so pleasant sitting in the sun, chatting to locals passing by or stopping to have coffee. I had a long chat to Mike one day.  He told me that he has been delighted with the positive response from locals, that he thinks people really want an opportunity to connect and that he is pleased to be providing it. Many, many places have community cafes, my own suburb in Auckland, for example, where people meet neighbours and locals, but what I think makes Radnor Gardens Cafe special is its location, right inside the park, and the enthusiasm of the owners for fostering a sense of community in the area.   So far it  has been a resounding success, long may it continue, and I look forward to visiting again sometime in the future. Oh, and the coffee is pretty good, which is high praise from a New Zealander!
Anyone for table tennis?
Don't just go to Radnor Gardens for coffee, though.  Take a walk through the gardens, enjoy the lovely views of the Thames riverside, sit under a weeping willow and listen to the wind in it!

Disclaimer:  I do not know the proprietors and the opinions expressed here are simply my own observations.  

UPDATE: The cafe changed hands in 2019 and I have been advised by former regulars that it is no longer the community cafe it was. It is still in the same good location beside the playground, though.
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