Sunday, June 09, 2013

Back to the Broca (and remembering The Brockley Bean)

The Broca by Brockley station was opened six years ago by Erin and Rob 'inspired by the coffee shops in Western Canada and Berlin' and 'using found objects, second quality equipment, and ethical products'.  At one time I used to be in there several times a week, but changes in work/school/ukulele patterns put an end to that. I was glad to pop in there last week though for the first time since some changes were made earlier in the year. It still has that non-corporate, bohemian feel, the biggest change is that the kitchen/counter area has been moved in to the area that was previously an extension, creating more space for preparing food and drink.

The space hangs together better, in the past it felt a bit like a tiny cafe with a big room stuck on the side. Of course the coffee is still very good, and as I had just run 5k round Hilly Fields I also allowed myself my traditional banana and almond muffin.

The book exchange has returned to just a few shelves, with the tide of old books no longer threatening to overwhelm the space. I love second hand books and picked up some really interesting reads at Broca over the years, as well as adding some into the mix. But one thing I have noticed in watching a few of these take a book/leave a book schemes is that there seems to be an iron law for the quality to diminish over time, so that you end up with a lot of books that nobody wants.

Next step for Broca is a planned alcohol license so that they can open as more of a bar in the evening.

The Broca is at 4 Coulgate Street SE4.

The Brockley Bean

In the 1980s/early 1990s there was a wholefoods co-op at 2 Coulgate Street called The Brockley Bean. I came across a 1993 article from The Independent which describes it as the base for the South East London Permaculture Community, then planning to grow food at Brickhurst Farm, near Pembury in Kent

'Since qualifying as a permaculture designer two and a half years ago, Steve Reaad has been spreading the word around his base in Brockley, south-east London. The local food supply system was set up 18 months ago after eight locals attended an introductory course on permaculture.

Based at the Brockley Bean, a pretty, cottage-like house with balloons painted along the facade and runner beans growing up the walls in summer, the South-East London Permaculture Community provides a monthly supply of wholefood - soya milk, organic flour, rice, cornflakes, muesli, bread, cheese and the like - to its 50 members. It also provides organic fruit and veg from Spitalfields Market. 'The mark-up is only 5 per cent and you're doing your body a favour. It's not so much a business as a proper community,' says Leslie Wills, a member who makes a living recycling clothes into an extraordinary range of patchwork coats and skirts. They plan to grow all the green goods for the community at Brickhurst Farm as well as providing free-range eggs, honey and organic wine from the nearby vineyard' (12 November 1993).   Anyone remember the Brockley Bean or related projects (I think there was also a cycle repair project)?


Anonymous said...

I remember the Brockley Bean well, and its counterpart in New Cross, Cross Currants. The Bean had a lovely feel to it and the prices were good although I once got charged £110 for a couple of packets of tofu due to getting to grips with the new till. Having been a regular visitor to the Aetherius Society wholefood shop in the Fulham Road (which really took some beating with the model spaceship in the HQ window next door) from the mid-60s, it felt very welcoming!

Transpontine said...

So was the Bean simply a food shop or was it also a cafe?

I believe Cross Currants was at 304 New Cross Road, where Prangsta is now.

Anonymous said...

Not a cafe, but it was a social space as I bumped into friends and neighbours or arranged to meet them there!

You're right about the location of Cross Currants. It had more variety but wasn't such a nice chummy place. It still isn't, in terms of the state of the building. I noticed the scaffolding had been removed from that block but it doesn't look much different; same grotty rotting windows.

Unknown said...

I remember helping Mr Brown's Pig (now in Bristol with one of his anarchic puppet show evenings at the Brockley Bean - might even have been upstairs.

Moira said...

In later years a cafe was opened upstairs.

Anonymous said...

I was a member of the Brockley Bean many moons ago. It was a wholefoods co-op, started as a buying group because people couldn't buy brown rice and such easily in those days. It was open two afternoons a week inside Lesley Wills' premises - she had a new age shop with lots of velvet clothing, crystals and cards.

At a meeting, someone had the great idea of breaking into the premises next door and squatting it, which is what happened and a woman called Erika squatted and lived upstairs on the premises until the co op wrestled a lease from the owner. She was eventually housed by Brockley Tenants' Co op. In time, upstairs became a caff on Saturdays and could be hired out. Almost everyone was on the dole or on benefits who 'worked' there ... £2 an hour! It was a voluntary co op, not a workers' co op. You had to work two hours a week for free before being paid and everyone who did their two hours got a discount.

A memorable meeting once, when someone described the Brockley Bean as 'anti profit' Ah those heady days of the 80s! I played my first ever public gig upstairs at the Bean on a music night. We were called The Music Lovers' Dream. I played accordion. I now have a masters in musicology so from small seeds ... !!!

lesley wills said...

Ah now I will fill in the gaps. I am the said Lesley Wills I moved into Coulgate St in1980 with my daughter Jess Daniels. I was part of the SE friends of the earth, we needed to have better space than the once a week telegraph hill table in which we offered discounted Wholefoods. So i rented the small shop I made clothes one side and the food co op had the other, I lived upstairs for the whole time and did one of the first vertical veg growing systems outside the shop, I lived there for 15years in total. We started small yes and but then one night we squatted next door we never had much money so it did look hippy triply we did end up renting it after some legal negotiations. Brockley liked us and we attracted lots of amazing people. Upstairs above the larger wholefood shop we set up a cafe...lots of stories on that and yes political puppet shows. I cooked veggie breakfasts for 10years oh the joy of veggie sausages. Large food outlets started to crowd us out and so we decided to close the shop but keep the cheap food going for co op members. Ive moved to Wales we’re now I have another cafe Follow Your Bliss and so the adventure starts again. I have dear friends in Brockley so come back once or twice a year.