Sustainable café in Mountsfield Park: A step up after a 20-year-old dream comes true

Steven Jankowski and Mary Wells, owners of Mountsfield Park Café. Pic:Mountsfield Park Café

36-year-old Mary Wells had a dream since she was 16 – owning a café.

“Apparently she ate a toasted sandwich with ‘all the good things in’ on a beach in Cairns and decided then,” her husband, 37-year-old Steven Jankowski, tells Eastlondonlines.

20 years later, in October 2020, her dream materialised. After a competitive tendering council process, Wells, along with her husband, was able to open what is now a colourful shipping container café located at Mountsfield Park in Catford – the Mountsfield Park Café.

Wells and Jankowski, who have been married for 11 years, explain how they both always planned to wait until their two boys, aged three and five, were no longer too young before embarking on their now joint dream of owning a café.

“But the opportunity presented itself during the midst of the pandemic and we felt it was right to go for it!” they say.

Although the pandemic had hit many businesses, for Mountsfield Park Café, business was booming. Strategically located in a park and uniquely opened seven days a week it was a favourite for locals and parkgoers.

Towards sustainability

Now, some 18 months later, a new health and sustainability-focused café, proposed to be open by the end of the year, is planned to replace their beloved Mountsfield Park Café. The catch? Jankowski and Wells are behind this project too.

The Lewisham Mayor and Cabinet have awarded the couple’s company, Bright & True ltd, an initial 15-year contract to design, build, and operate the new environmentally friendly café.

“Whilst we have loved operating from our colourful shipping container, we recognise that the park and the community deserves a facility that better caters for the needs of all – particularly in the winter,” said Jankowski.

“We are delighted we get the opportunity to build a café for the community at the hub of a well-loved green space in the heart of the borough of Lewisham.  The project will create a space available for community use.”

He added: “We believe the cafe will foster community, improve people’s physical and mental wellbeing by encouraging the use of the park and we hope to tackle issues of loneliness amongst the elderly and young parents particularly.  Lastly, we are excited to deliver a building that will be beautiful, energy-efficient and good for local ecology.”

Councillor Patrick Codd, Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport, was delighted about the new build too. He said: “This new café is going to be a fantastic addition to our beautiful Mountsfield Park. We want Lewisham residents to have the benefit of our award-winning green spaces as much as possible and the new café will have space available for a variety of community uses”.

Funding challenge

Following in the footsteps of Mountsfield Park Café, which uses carpools, public transport, and cycling for their business purposes and only uses local suppliers for their coffee, the new café will prioritise environmentally sustainable features and carbon neutrality.

Plans to boost these priorities include the construction of an innovative living green roof, which will attract and promote biodiversity, and the use of sustainable materials and timber for construction.

Proposed designs of the new cafè. Pic:Mountsfield Park Café

Jankowski explains that although the new café has been a dream come true for him and his wife it comes with its challenges.

“We estimate the cost of the project will be approximately £500,000 with 13% coming from council grants, 17% from crowdfunding, and the remaining 70% from loans from ourselves, friends and family.”

“We are wiping out all our savings.”

Nonetheless, the couple is excited for the works to start next month which will also include the build of new accessible toilets and more recreational areas.

Jankowski says: “Catford has received a lot of negative attention due to problems with air quality and it will be great to be part of a project that delivers a more sustainable future for the community. Our ultimate aim is to build something that improves the quality of life for local people now and for generations to come”.

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