I love cafés… Wherever I go, I love seeking out places that I can spend a couple of hours in, tucked away in a corner with a book and a cup of coffee, or having a pot of tea while watching the world go by. So, when I read about The Canvas, a social enterprise café just off Brick Lane in East London that promotes happiness, self-esteem and well-being, I couldn’t wait to visit.
London has a bit of a reputation for being a cold and unfriendly city (although, I’ve always thought this reputation is a little undeserved!). I regularly hear comments about how Londoners are always in a rush, never smile at each other and never talk to strangers. There is even a campaign called Talk to Me London that is trying to encourage Londoners to strike up conversations with strangers in order to create a better sense of community and increase well-being. Recent statistics show that Londoners feel less happy than other residents of the UK – when asked about their well-being, Londoners recorded some of the lowest levels of happiness and the highest levels of anxiety.
The Canvas is a space dedicated to making visitors feel happier, by encouraging creativity and promoting well-being and happiness through a series of different events and classes. It is a place that all ‘unhappy Londoners’ can go to relax, unwind and smile!
The Canvas was opened in October 2014 by Ruth Rogers, founder of Body Gossip – a charity which aims to inspire body confidence and ’empower everybody to be the best version of themselves’. It was a Body Gossip project that gave Ruth the inspiration for The Canvas Cafe. As part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Ruth placed a white sofa in the middle of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and asked people to write one sentence about their body. Ruth was blown away by the honesty of people and the connections that people made while contributing to the project – and the idea for The Canvas Cafe was born. The main difference was this time the canvas would be the venue, rather than a sofa. In March 2015, the Canvas joined the Action for Happiness network and officially became London’s very first ‘happy cafe’.
So, what is it about the Canvas that makes it such a happy place?
The Canvas is a creative space which encourages visitors to think about what makes them happy. All around the café’s white walls are a number of questions, such as ‘What is your earliest happy memory?’ , ‘What’s the best thing that happened to you today?’ and ‘Name an album that changed your life’. Usually, writing on the walls of a café will get you thrown out – but here, it is encouraged. Grab one of the pens and add your comment to the wall. And then take the time to read all the other comments left by previous guests – they can’t help but make you smile!
The Canvas also holds classes and workshops which are intended to improve confidence, well-being and body image. Some of these classes are free to attend, others charge a small fee and include classes such as yoga, mindfulness training, relaxation workshops, comedy sessions, free film screenings and inspirational talks on a range of topics. There is also a monthly meeting of the Survivors Collective, where survivors of childhood sexual abuse meet to take part in activism and creative projects and gather ideas about how to start discussions about sexual abuse in society.
The Museum of Happiness, a non-profit organisation which uses a series of interactive exhibitions and workshops to encourage people to explore issues of happiness and well-being, have recently opened their first permanent space at the Canvas Café. Visitors can add their gratitudes to the gratitude tree, send letters of thanks to their friends and family and take part in mindful colouring and origami.
Even the food at the Canvas will make you smile. All of the ingredients used are ethically and locally sourced and everything is homemade and very tasty. They have also recently introduced healthy vegan and gluten free “Freakshakes”, which look absolutely delicious.
So, next time you are out in East London and fancy a cup of coffee, definitely pay The Canvas a visit. Take the time to sit and think about what really makes you happy and share your thoughts with others. I challenge you to leave the Canvas Café without a big smile on your face!
Address: 42 Hanbury St, London, E1 5JL
Opening times: Tuesday – Friday 9am-9pm | Saturday – Sunday 10am-8pm