My very first article for Govanhill voice was covering the opening weekend of Milk café on Victoria road. Founded by Gabrielle Cluness and Angela Ireland. Almost a year to the button, we decided to drop by and see how things were going.
Hey guys, it’s been a year so you must have tonnes to talk about. Running any business is hard enough but your plan to incorporate volunteers as well as establishing and building upon links with other social enterprises must have been trying. On top of that doing most of the baking etc. too. How have you managed to juggle it all???!
Lot’s of late nights and caffeine!! We’ve had a tonne of help and support over the year and we really couldn’t have done it without everyone who has given their time to us. Pals, family, volunteers and even customers have all helped to create the cafe that MILK has become.
What organisations have you built ties with in terms of getting people in to socialise and all your behind the counter stuff?
We are working with a great network of people at the moment including the Real Junk Food Project Glasgow, Freedom Bakery, Learn to Sew Glasgow, the Big Issue and the Glasgow ESOL forum.
Most week nights you are open fairly late. What groups currently use your space?
Yeah we have a busy schedule at the moment, it’s really great. On a Tuesday night there is a free English Language cafe from 5-6, it’s a time for second language users to come and practice their English in a relaxed and friendly atmosphere. Then from 6-8 Geraldine runs a free creative workshop, this one is a women-only drop in. Wednesdays we team up with The Real Junk Food Project and Learn to Sew Glasgow for our Sewciable Suppers. The boy’s at That’s Yer Dinner have a regular pop-up on the last Saturday of the month. The Big Issue use the space on a Monday morning for Esol classes and we have a lot of other random nights and dinners; we’re available for private hire so there is always something going on.
Are any of the groups open to new participants who maybe want to drop in and help out or learn something new themselves?
Tuesday evenings are drop in and free so if you want to practice your English form 5-6 or learn new art skills from 6-8 then please come and join in. We also welcome anyone who identifies as a woman who would like to attend our feminist discussion group on monday’s, where we host a discussion group, sometimes screening films or discussing literature or newspaper articles. Anyone is welcome to come to our open Mic which is held every second friday, and if anyone is interested in doing one on one english classes, we are happy to facilitate this in the cafe where possible
You use your walls as a gallery space too. What exhibitions do you have coming up and how can future potential exhibitors get in touch about the space?
At the moment the walls are being curated by the MILK Diaries, a collective of young local artists who are displaying a series of rolling exhibitions over the next year. We aren’t sure what the plan is for next year, but we would be happy to have local artists involved once the 12 months of MILK Diaries are over.
Last year we spoke about your menu. You wanted to keep it seasonal and to the taste of the area. How difficult or easy has been incorporating seasonal produce in?
We’ve been very lucky again with friends and regular customers dropping off fruit and veg from their gardens and allotments for us to use in the kitchen. It’s lovely and can be great fun to try and use it all up, there was a week last year where there was fennel soup, fennel cake and roast fennel salad on the menu!!
How has the menu evolved as your experience has grown and local input has developed?
We’re definitely getting better in the kitchen, and our volunteers bring a lot of diversity to the menu. There are a few firm favourites with the regulars; French Toast, our creamy garlic mushrooms and the mackerel salad are always a winner. We love to experiment with different dishes and having all our volunteers introducing us to their favourite dishes is what makes it so much fun in our wee kitchen.
You work pretty long days has that settled down a bit or do you have a plan to help pull it back a gear now you have established some roots?
No it definitely hasn’t changed!! We have things on most evenings these days and we love that people are always coming to us with ideas about how to use the space. We are still really enjoying running the cafe and have no plans to slow down yet.
If you could change anything what would it be?
We’d quite like a slightly bigger space to expand and be able to do even more things in….Watch this space 😉
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to set up a similarly structured social enterprise?
Really just have courage and go for it!! We certainly didn’t have a huge amount experience of any of the aspects of what we are doing, but we were brave, and we thought we had a good idea. We also had a LOT of help, which is a good chunk of why MILK works. Just now there is so much evidence that the current mode of ruthless business based in capitalism isn’t working; either economically or on a social level. Thinking outside the box in terms of how to benefit your community as well as building a sustainable life for yourself should be something any entrepreneur should be thinking about.
Do you have any events coming up that are open to the public and would like to advertise?
We have so many things happening just now that the best idea to keep up to date is to follow our Facebook or twitter accounts as they are usually pretty well maintained and will let you know what is happening as and when it comes up.
You have a rather funny story about your bathroom and a customer who complained you painted it, would you like to tell us about that?
Haha, yeah when we got the keys to the Go Slow last year we had a really tight schedule to turn it around and open it as MILK so we had to make all our decisions about décor etc really quickly. Gabby’s mam and Aunty, who are both artists, were down from Shetland to help with the makeover and we all decided that the existing art in the bathroom had to go because it was a bit dark and aggressive, especially considering the social enterprise aspect of the cafe. We knew it was a local artist that had painted the walls in there and we had looked to see if the mural had been done on panels that we could take off but it wasn’t it was straight on the walls. We had no choice but to paint over it. Gabby’s mammy went to work on covering it and as she was just about finished the first coat her sister screamed from the kitchen and we all came to see what was wrong “he’s been in the Tate” she wailed, “we’ve painted over a masterpiece!”
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