Tina Farrow is the manager and director of Dee Caf Community Cafe CIC. Tina has previously worked in prison education, including as curriculum leader at a young offender institution, and also runs a food education business, Tinkatots, offering cookery classes for children. She spoke to us about why she started Dee Caf and the community fridge (which offers free food to the local community every Monday and Wednesday), making community connections and celebrating life in Dee Park and Tilehurst.
Tell us about the cafe
I opened the cafe because I love food and cooking. Like many people, I wanted to create something that was my own. I was given an opportunity to create something with a blank canvas. I was very lucky: I got to create the name, the design, layout, menu, everything… It was hard – I have never done anything like this before and I was doing it during the first lockdown – but it was fun! I had involvement from friends and family: my cousin designed the logo, a friend helped pick the colour themes, another friend became a director and helped me with spreadsheets and financial models.
Describe a typical working day for you
A typical day would be to drive to the cafe early, sanitise the cafe, turn on the coffee machine, put the home-made sourdough croissants in the oven and prepare the cakes we make on site. As I’m doing this, I’m usually giving a spelling test to my children aged 5 and 7, or listening to them read. Then cafe assistant Gabriela arrives and I go and do the school run. When I get back to the cafe, we bake, cook, make coffee, and chat to our lovely customers. Sometimes I go and get food donations from the supermarkets or visit the wholesaler for more stock.
On a Monday and Wednesday we make a hot meal with the ingredients we have from Fareshare. We make a massive batch of food, ready to give out for free at 3.15pm outside the cafe at our community fridge and food bank. Then I do the school run, come back and make my children a babycino and hot chocolate whilst I finish serving and close up. The only challenging part is if there’s a spanner thrown into this well-oiled machine! Then it becomes a juggling act. The best thing is when the cafe is buzzing, everyone is served, people are laughing and chatting… you can sit back and enjoy the atmosphere!
The community fridge
The community fridge idea happened because I grew up in a single parent family – we had very little money growing up and I know how hard life was for my mum. Through campaigns such as #endfoodpoverty by Marcus Rashford I know this is still a major issue, amplified by lockdown. The cafe is based in the heart of an estate, ideally located to help the people most in need. I made links with Fareshare and covered all of the health and safety forms so that we could collect food and ingredients from the supermarkets, like Tesco on Portman Road, who are great. We have regular people that come for the food, non-food items and the hot meals I make. Today I’m cooking up some veggie pasta with a slow-cooked ragu! My customers donate food and non-food essentials for the community fridge. I work with All Yours to provide free sanitary towels for adults and teenagers. During the community fridge times it is also a chance for me to keep in touch with vulnerable people in our community. Sometimes just having a chat is enough, people are very lonely at the moment.
Working with the residents of Dee Park
We have also organised a Clean Up Crew for Dee Park and Lousehill – the council have provided us with litter pickers etc. As part of this we are looking into how we can improve the Lyon’s Square Play Park – the local kids use it but it is looking very sad with not a lot of equipment. The people in the area deserve better: everybody has the right to live in an area that is clean and safe and fun for kids. That’s what we’re trying to achieve. We think that if an area is dirty, then people won’t think twice about making it dirtier, if a play park looks sad then people won’t think twice about chucking their old mattress in there. Dee park residents have had enough, especially with the news of the recent murder there, too. That’s why they’ve joined me in trying to make a difference in the area.
Celebrating Dee Park and Tilehurst
The cafe and the projects that it is involved in is about making people proud of being from Dee Park and Tilehurst. We make the best quality food and coffee, by using local British ingredients and local businesses. We sell Tilehurst Honey – the lady that makes it was brought up in Dee road. We work with our very own artist in residence, Lisa-Marie Gibbs, who runs art and wellbeing projects in Dee Park with some of the proceeds from sales of plants and cards sold in the cafe. We’re making lots of connections with local organisations. We want to do more to celebrate Tilehurst.
Adapting to pandemic life
We kept the cafe open during the November lockdown and did really well with takeaway service. For this current lockdown since January I decided to close it but keep it open for the community fridge, because juggling home schooling as a single parent was too much, and we all need to look after ourselves and our mental health right now. Also, we had no idea about this new variant and how it was spreading, so I had to keep my customers, my staff and myself safe. I cried when I made the decision to temporarily close Dee Caf and I don’t often cry! It was heart-breaking: we worked so hard and we were doing so well. I can’t wait to open in March, we’ll start off with take-away again, where people can order at the door or in advance and we will make the food fresh and have it ready for our customers to collect!