Is anything more soothing than dippy egg and soldiers, Victoria sponge and a cup of tea? Sadly, in a London increasingly populated by chain cafes and cold customer service, such treats are hard to find outside the comfort of your own home.
Enter NANA, where ‘older ladies’ are giving their time and expertise to run a Clapton cafe. The brainchild of local resident Katie Harris, 28, the enterprise aims to bring generations together over “simple, classic good food, done well, at a good price”. On the menu are breakfast favourites like egg and soldiers and scrambled egg on toast, then lunches will be sandwiches on plain white or brown bread, salads and a soup of the day, plus traditional teatime cakes.
Housed at the Elderfield pub on Elderfield Road in Clapton every weekday from 10am until 3:30pm, NANA is the answer to Katie’s own question: “How can we take the qualities of lovely older ladies and turn it into a business?”
“It’s a partnership. Individual ‘nanas’ join up and every three months we’ll release a percentage of the profits and it gets divided up depending on how many hours they’ve worked. The idea is that people can use it as a nice little earner.
“We’re asking for one day a week at first, we’ll see how much time people have because it turns out old ladies are very busy!”
As a precursor to NANA, last year Katie set up a venture called ‘The Amazings’, seeking to find retired people with skills that could be turned into marketable activities or products of which they would keep 70 per cent of the profits. She was inspired to set up the projects after designing similar schemes for the public sector for the last five years. Whilst Katie does some occasional freelance work, the majority of her time is spent on NANA.
In the face of overwhelming negativity towards the ‘ageing population’, she saw the huge potential in older people who have motivation and do not want to be “passive receivers of services”.
Katie said: “That’s how I met Bernadette – she was an amazing crocheter and knitter. She made all the aprons for NANA. One of the things I noticed was a lot of the women were applying to do something with cooking, but didn’t have the confidence to run a class.
“There are also a lot of soft skills with older ladies, not just making the best sponge, not everyone who joins NANA needs to be a cook. It’s more of that nurturing quality that only a Nana really has.”
‘Chief Nana’, 66-year-old Bernadette Taylor is active within NANA and at home.
She said: “On a day-to-day basis I do a lot of sewing. I also cook for my grandchildren since they only live 10 doors away. I love getting the generations together. There’s such a gap, especially when people move away from their families. I think it’s really exciting.”
Bernadette highlights the value of having nurturing nanas around: “One of the things I can remember from when my children were younger was never drinking a hot cup of tea and never eating a hot meal, because as soon as the food’s ready the children needed something. So to have someone who can occupy your children while you drink a hot cup of tea, that’s gold dust.”
But it is not only for parents to take their children for some quiet time outside the house. Teacher Hannah Reynolds from nearby Rushmore Primary School said she’ll “come at least once a week to escape the chaos”.
Giving the last word on the benefit of NANA, Bernadette said: “Everyone’s got something to learn and something to share.”