Here’s the challenge: a troubled economically depressed neighbourhood with empty shop units. What do you do? You convert the vacant shell into a pop-up tea shop. Samina Zahir, founder of the arts-based company Hybrid, is behind one of these pop-up tea rooms, called Inhabit, in the Handsworth area of Birmingham – staffed by employees, artists and volunteers. Its motto – Vacant Spaces to Vibrant Places. Says Samina:
It’s a response to my sense that the public spaces where people can engage are rapidly disappearing… I also worry that local high streets are losing their individuality and are no longer spaces where people know or recognise each other.
People become more trusting and more comfortable if they are holding something hot in their hands.
Or someone… Sorry, got distracted there. Where was I? Oh aye…
What’s the difference from a normal cafe, you ask. People aren’t encouraged to rush in, spend, drink and leave to make way for new customers so quickly. It’s not primarily about profit and has an arts and crafts side to it also.
Sounds like a good idea to me. Wonder if it works? I hope the reality is more satisfying than the initially promising D’Espresso bar near Grand Central Station in New York. The initial impression is of a comforting book-lined cocoon, a library turned on its side. But it turns out that the herring bone pattern of books is merely photographic. If only there were real books there, even behind glass or perspex. Ah well. It appears we need a final injection of soul to make up for the omission.
Best turn to this mellow tune from Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo (or as we used to call him at work, Dr. Congo). It’s called “Indépendance cha-cha – Le jour d’après”, and features the late Wendo Kolosoys backing band. Apparently it’s a new take on the African independence anthem written in 1960 by Joseph “Grand Kallé” Kabasele and Nicolas ” Dr. Nico” Kassanda. Aaah lovely… I can feel the tension drift drift drifting away.