Where can I begin?
Context, that’s good. My name is Kip, two years ago I moved out of my parents home to London aged 21. I had lived in comfortable, quiet Cornwall my whole life. I had heard many scary stories about the difficulty of living in London. My parents, however, had always assured me that their adolescents’ spent in the big city were a thrill like no other and something that I should experience.
So, finally, at 21 years of age, I decided to leave home for good and face the crippling rent-paying debacle that is life once and for all.
When I arrived in London with no savings and no qualifications of current use, reality hit me like a brick. Earning money regularly and consistently was no longer an option; it was a necessity. It is, of course, a massive privilege that I had not had to experience that feeling until the ripe old age of 21.
The pressure of earning was apparent. The weight of the number of people and the buildings in the city itself was apparent.
So too was the stress that comes with a lack of wide-open green spaces for free-range Cornish lad like me.
Topping off these malign environs is the well-known adage of big-city-loneliness.
Millions upon millions of people, tightly crowded, all moving at breakneck speed to keep up with one another and the so-called rat race at the national-verging on the global epicentre of capitalism. But non of them stopping for a chat.
Where is the farmer talking about the weather?
Where is the dog walker stopping to talk about literally anything going on in the village that month?
People, people everywhere, but not a chit to chat.
And then I found it.
A few days into my time in London, I decided to do some job hunting at the cafes near my house share. A google search of all the nearby plant-based cafes revealed 3 or 4 within walking distance. Score. When I arrived at Cambridge Heath Road searching for a place called ‘Love Shack’ I initially walked right past it.
The unassuming turquoise fence and delightfully ramshackle woodwork were tucked into one of many ‘arches’ underneath an overground railway line.
Doubling back I entered to find the quirkiest, cheekiest, most Southeast Asian hostel-like-building I’d ever been to in the UK.
I was greeted by 2 bright shining faces saying ‘hello’ from behind the counter. We exchanged words of positivity, and I was told to explore the building. 3 rooms separated this space. Upon entrance, there is a well-lit conservatory-style front cafe and garden area with artificial grass, beanbags, deckchairs and hammocks.
Entering into the arch, there is a larger open-plan restaurant room with some original bare archway brickwork on the high ceiling. And finally, a Hawaiian inspired bar room with a sofa, bookshelf, and all the most eclectic decor you can imagine. Large cocktail parasols hang upside down from the beams on the roof.
I was sold.
What transpired over the next 14 months was to transform my ideas of what a community space could be.
Through the Love shack, I was placed dead centre of what I call the ‘conscious capitalism’ movement in the UK.
This is to say a business entity that exists within the capitalist system, but one that takes almost every conceivable measure to ensure it has the most positive impact possible on the world around it. I’ll explain in a few ways how this was done:
The Love Shack is a fully Vegan establishment. This is currently the most significant thing any person, community restaurant could do to cut down their carbon emissions. The 10 litres of water required to produce a cup of oat milk, for example, pales in comparison to the 125 litres needed for the same cup of dairy milk. Pales, get it. Okay, no more jokes.
This is also hugely positive for animal welfare of course which goes a way to sorting out humanities questionable karma standings at present.
The Love Shack is as plastic-free as possible and takes steps to maximise recycling of waste and up-cycling of outsourced furniture too.
This one shocked me in the best way. For starters, there are the local and tourist visitors that would come to socialise day and night, be it for DJ dance nights or lunch dates. Then on top of this, there were the social clubs and group meetups. When I first arrived, Love Shack was hosting a weekly gathering of acro yoga, organised by a delightful Argentine man named Tincho. This group of people I presume was a fairly established community before the love shack. Still, the creation of the Love Shack allowed them a perfect little funky space to practice their acrobatic yoga, order smoothies and not have to worry about being kicked out.
The perfect mix of cafe style, social hub and creative space. Another long-standing group meet up at the Love Shack is the ‘Jam’. As in Bob Marley’s “I wanna Jam with you”. This was a raucously welcoming gathering of people with drums and various instruments which needed a space to play together. The largest room would be cleared, and a circle of chairs would be placed for them to play. Many onlookers (including myself) would join into the middle of the ring and dance around to the beats. This pattern of international seemingly random groups coming to the Love Shack to practice their hobbies and clubs continued featuring such favourites as:
Pottery nights - self-explanatory!
Comedy nights - usually 8 quirky comedians in 2 hours
Sofa sounds - a fantastic grassroots high-quality gig circuit
Movie nights - projector and popcorn in tow
Jazz movie nights - LIVE jazz and silent movies to accompany. The musicians would improvise to the footage. My favourite ever was a free diver in the beautiful ocean depths, gracefully swaying to those live trumpets, scatting drums and double bass.
Clothes swaps, a makeshift changing room in tow
Doggie daycare - the Love Shack didn’t just welcome dogs, it provided a discount for their mere presence. ~ An exemplary attitude to the four-legged angels of our world.
These gatherings of people all had one thing in common. They believed in a welcoming, open and tolerant attitude. This was the Ethos of the Love Shack. ‘Peace Love and Piracy’.
The Love Shack is not a conventional space. It is the centre of a counterculture movement. A movement that aims to change capitalism from a system of unabated growth and expansion regardless of human needs to one of carefully chosen gentle growth that feeds directly to the greatest needs of human beings, animals and the planet. Humans don’t need Bentleys. We don’t need Rolexes. What we need is community and validation from one another. We need to feel loved and supported. We need healthy food, clean water and space to create and explore ourselves. We don’t need a constant supply of meat to consume, and we don’t need a continual amount of new branded clothes. What we need is a regular physical and mental challenge, the use of our skills to contribute to our communities and daily affirmations that we are loved, valued and enough.
These above mentioned are all things the Love Shack provided. As staff members, we were encouraged to be as welcoming and friendly as possible to customers, extending compliments to visitors and offering hugs. If staff/customer hugs isn’t a necessary human connection within capitalism, then I don’t know what is. The prices are kept relatively low by Londons standards, and monetary gain is clearly not the prime target of this establishment. Making the world a better place is. The effect of this is that all different kinds of people felt welcome. We had the sober drum circle hippies, the wine and dine couples, the cocktails and sequins late-night revellers and everything in between. This inclusive, equality focused approach brought people together and helped blend social boundaries.
Depression rates in the various boroughs of the capital average at 7%, and this is just those cases that are reported. Affordable, accessible community spaces like the Love Shack are an essential piece of the social infrastructure, bringing people together to enjoy our shared humanity. I indeed found London a challenging place to live in terms of mental health and the Love Shack provided a substantial antidote time and again, no substances required.
For all of these experiences, I am immensely grateful. The Love Shack taught me that community, Love and compassion can be at the forefront of the capitalist system if we focus on it. The modern world is bound by growth. Capitalism and globalisation have helped many people around the globe raise their standards of living. Still, it’s abundantly clear that we need to reel it in. It’s a train we cannot stop but one that we can control. We must support the business’ that steer the direction of capitalist growth into a place that serves real human needs, including looking after the planet in which we live.
The Love Shack has given me lifelong friends and a place I can always call home. It was a space to learn about myself and others and a window through which to view the confusing and complicated social systems of a megacity with safety and clarity. I have personally spent many hundreds of hours dancing in this building. In the Love Shack, I witnessed the blossoming of multiple romantic loves. One such Love flew through to an actual wedding, the party of which happened at the Love Shack. I also performed my first play with my workmates (including the owners and managers) set in the Love Shack itself, which culminated in the whole room dancing, audience and performers. I made memories that will last a lifetime.
How do I sum up what the Love Shack was for me in that mind-expanding year?
There’s a quote from the book and movie adaption of ‘the beach’ which does it best.
‘I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it’s not someplace you can look for. Because it’s not where you go. It’s how you feel for a moment in your life when you’re a part of something. And if you find that moment... It lasts forever.’