Milk café is situated on Victoria Road in the premises that were formerly the Go Slow Café and is founded by Gabrielle Cluness and Angela Ireland. This social enterprise will provide a a relaxed atmosphere, with some utterly yummy homemade cakes, scones and biscuits as well as other culinary delights.
But more importantly, Milk will offer a skills programme that helps migrant women integrate into their new lives and improves their job prospects for the future. We popped in to have a chat with Gabrielle and Angela on their opening weekend.
Can you tell us a bit about you, who you are and why you set up?
Angela; We met as waitresses and hit it off as friends, went travelling, that was when we had the conversations about what we wanted to do. We really love working with the public, customer service, we are quite ‘Foodie’ but we wanted to do something different that was also community driven. We liked the idea of social enterprise as a business model.
With the social enterprise who did you originally volunteer with that made you choose a business that would help asylum seeking women?
Angela; When we came back from south America we wanted to work with women in some capacity but we didn’t yet know what the focus would be. But then we both saw an advert for The Bridges Programme so that’s who we volunteered with initially. And it was working on a buddy system with asylum seeking or refugee women in the city. Offering some companionship and help with things like finding a local library or using print facilities.
So when you volunteered for these organisations you found women experienced a lot of barriers?
Angela; Yes, so we hoped we could fill some of the gaps.
Do you have a volunteers working in MILK at the moment?
Gabrielle; Not yet, we didn’t want to inflict the first month on anyone else! We are very experienced in many things but this is the first business we have started from scratch, we need the first month to just work out how much prep etc. we need. We do have lots of followers on Facebook and Twitter, so we’ve had lots of women from Glasgow and the surrounding area who say they want to help as well. So if not immediately, later on we would like to pair each asylum seeker or refugee with a person from the local area to support them, so that it’s not just Angela and I trying to do it all. And also so their social network expands and they aren’t just stuck with me and Angela.
What organisations will you be working with?
Gabrielle; The Glasgow Night Shelter, a service set up for destitute asylum seekers – who at the moment predominately work with men and The Bridges Programme. Bridges have people lined up who want to be involved in our programme and the Youth Community Support Agency Glasgow, a support agency who do some work with young unaccompanied asylum seekers , so people aged 16 to 24 and they are based in Pollockshields. Their purpose is to help young people in any way they can. We would like to do pop up events with them and some of them, in what ever they would like to do; they all have different interests and skills. It’s the kind of network that constantly provides new contacts and we have had quite a bit of interest from social media.
The people that have contacted you via social media, do they tend to be from the south of Glasgow or far beyond?
Gabrielle; Well I’m from Shetland and Angela’s from Inverness so it’s definitely Scotland wide, but as far as volunteers getting involved it’s Glasgow wide.
Are you looking for local volunteers?
Gabrielle; Yes and we are very flexible in what they can do, for example not all of our women will want to work front of house because they may not like dealing with the public or be very shy. Their strength or area of desired learning may be social media or marketing, so if anyone can offer to help them with that it would still be really useful.
We will try and tailor the experience based on what they need. It may also just be the experience of being in the shop, meeting people and just getting out. Some women will want to get involved in the community and get out the house because it can be a very isolating experience so even just coming in once or twice a week could be sufficient for them. Spending some time with different people and having a laugh is the least we want to offer. To the other side of the scale which would be ‘If I get my right to remain, and I can work, then I would like to start a business’. Maybe not a café, but have the basic skills to know where to start.
I think it will be interesting to see what everyone can do because all our service users and volunteers will have different skill sets.
Where did your name come from is it an Acronym?
Angela; No we just though MILK was associated with coffee, tea and quite foodie. We’d like to say hours of thought went into it, but we thought it was simple, universal and self-explanatory.
Why did you choose to set up in Govanhill?
Gabrielle; It was a meeting of amazing circumstances. We love Victoria road It’s multicultural and diverse and we love the feeling here. It’s a lot more community orientated than lots of other parts of Glasgow. Victoria road is perceived of having its day a bit, but it feels full of potential and I love how diverse it is.
There is a lot of negative press surrounding Govanhill.
Angela; Yeah, which would be great to combat as well.
Gabrielle; I think we live in a very lucky time, where people are far more open minded than they have ever been. There is still a lot of racism and xenophobia but it would be great to help combat that. It is a very multicultural area. When you grow up in an ethnically diverse area it is hard to hold on to ideas like racism because you are constantly exposed to different cultures and backgrounds. The best way to expel racist notions is to put people together and they say well, basically we’re the same.
A programme we did at Bridges had an ice breaker which asked what your favourite food was. Nine women from different corners of the globe all answered Chocolate so we all have far more in common than some people would expect. Also from a business perspective we have to think about how to make this a success, and some of the food you get from different parts of the world is just incredible. That’s what is brilliant about British food; I think we are such an open minded country when it comes to food. Having travelled a lot I’ve never been anywhere where you can get such a diverse culinary range, particularly in London but Glasgow as well. You can say I fancy Lebanese food tonight or Ethiopian food, or basically pick a country, that doesn’t happen in many countries, it definitely happens in Glasgow. Even in the two days we have been open there has been such a diverse range of customers that I think they’ll be open to our evolving menu.
It’s only been two days you have been open but how has custom been?
Angela; Good! Its early days but so far, a mix of people who follow us on social media, local residents from upstairs etc. and passers-by. The café didn’t used to be open on a Sunday so it’s been quite quiet today. I think until people realise we will be open on a Sunday.
Is all the food home-made?
Angela; Yes and we have a pastry chef who has helped us out with some of the cakes so far.
Your menu is going to be quite diverse then?
Gabrielle; Yes eventually, we have limitations spatially here but we have access to a commercial kitchen once a week. The food will be seasonal so in the winter some stews etc., a curry every day and different cuisines from around the world. At the moment we are just trying things out, so we have realised that everyone likes bacon and avocado.
What’s on the menu at the moment, what stands out?
Gabrielle; Well we stock Dear Green coffee. Food wise it’s been varied but nice and healthy. Fresh oat cakes, Fresh hummus with olive bread and partisan crust. Yesterday our hummus was horse radish with roast Mediterranean vegetables. Homemade Cheese scones. But this is also a time period where we would love people to come in and tell us what they want. Today we had a customer come in and say’ I just want a cheese toastie’ so we were like ‘Ok’, we can rustle that up. But we are looking for feedback because we want customers to keep coming back. We don’t have a vision of a certain type of food we won’t deviate from. We have put what we like on the menu for the first few days and hopefully it will evolve. When we get our volunteers we can make what they suggest too. If some wee wifey comes in and says ‘I make the best stovies’ we’ll make some, If someone from Sudan says ‘I make some amazing Sudanese stew’, that’s cool we’ll do that. We’ll see what works and what doesn’t.
Sounds like it will keep the customers interested anyway! What was the cake I just had? It was really great!
Gabrielle; Flour-less chocolate orange cake, so its gluten free. That’s another thing we are definitely going to make sure we always have gluten free and vegan options, because I think that’s part of the clientele we are going to attract. But we are open to suggesting; we need to hear from vegans who for example don’t like…mushrooms etc.
What about the sourcing of your products is it local, organic etc.?
Angela; we have tried to do both so have a lot of stuff from Ruben at Locavore. They produce local in community allotment spaces.
Also Matt from Freedom Bakery, a social enterprise that works with prisoners, they will be supplying some of the bread. That’s the way for social enterprises to flourish; work together.
Gabrielle; We do want to make everything organic and free range but it comes down to availability and cost, the menu has to be affordable for the area its situated in too.
If people in the local area are interested in volunteering are you open to them getting in touch?
Gabrielle; Yes, and we are looking for people with lots of different skill sets. We would prefer the buddies for the women to be female, but if there is a guy who can offer an hour here or there for say joinery that would also be much appreciated. We want to make this a great volunteer experience which is good for your C.V and your brain; there is nothing worse than giving up your time and not enjoying it. Please get in touch.
Pictured; A glimpse at Milk’s menu, Some tasty delights all served on vintage tea sets, Gabrielle and Angela, Milk’s founders.
Interview and images by Lisa Craig