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Kate Romano reflects on the Granary's new cafe, five months after opening... 


I love our cafe. I love its woody-nutty-bakery smell, the comforting hum of the coffee machine, the simple routine and rhythm of switching on the lights, polishing the glass, laying out the cakes and creating this small theatre, ready for our visitors. I get a little buzz of excitement when everything is set up, the music is on and we’re ready to go: it's showtime! 


I’ve spent a lot of time in our cafe. We designed, decorated, stocked and staffed it ourselves. We created our own systems and processes. There isn’t a single thing that doesn’t have a story behind it; the well-read dull-cloth travel books on the shelves, the William Morris oversized print, the ‘wall of art’ and the antique mirror… The cafe is a reflection and extension of us: our history, our tastes and our charitable aims. 


Call in on a Saturday morning and you might find musicians from the previous evening’s concert who have stopped in for breakfast. Or you might discover our piano tuners, our volunteers, exhibition hangers or technical teams pondering a problem or sharing stories. You’ll bump into artists and creatives, tutors and students, friends and neighbours. You’ll almost certainly see myself, Tam and Louise with our laptops, ready to chat about the things that we do here, or jump up and make a coffee when it gets busy. 


In the Arts, it can take months or years for an idea to come to fruition. In the cafe, an order is taken, items are assembled on a tray - a pleasing still life of coffee, pastries and loose leaf tea - and delivered to a customer. We create over 150 of these micro-productions every day, invariably met with smiles and gratitude. That's 150 little endorphin rushes. 150 jobs-well-done. The cafe is an immensely rewarding place to work. 


Have you noticed our music? Eclectic, quirky and personal, these bespoke playlists have been created by the Granary’s artistic planning team and they can change the mood in an instant. The pounding drum and bass shuffle of Rose Rouge by St Germain brings ‘morning-after-the-night-before’ vibes to the early set-up. I like to fold away the wooden chairs at the end of the day, quietly, with Aiden O’ Rourke’s Mangersta Beach. Chick Corea inexplicably goes with anything. I met a smiling elderly couple who told me they were on their second date. They drank their coffee to Angela Morely’s heartfelt love theme from the 1981 TV drama Madame X followed by Joshua Bell playing Nigel Hess’s Ladies in Lavender. I hope  - like me - they felt like they were starring in a movie. Well, it’s all theatre isn’t it? 


Or is it? ‘Back to the real world’ said one of our customers, reluctantly finishing his coffee and a stroll around the exhibition. Art can be an escape, but never a mere escape. Art is getting constructively lost; knowingly, collectively lost, with others, and understanding your relation with the real and unreal world. It is escapism as an aesthetically legitimate pursuit.  Despite an evocative soundtrack, I know that I’m not really a hero of my own story, Don Quixote style. But I do enjoy the feeling of losing myself in music, in a book, a poem, a painting, whilst keeping one foot firmly on the ground. I see it in our visitors too. If they are escaping the ‘real world’, they momentarily become characters in ours, falling into a new narrative, transported into another world, yet still able to contemplate it with some sort of detachment (I don’t like that painting… I like this one… they say to one another).


It was this idea of stories-within-stories, fiction-within-fiction, which led us to create our Storytelling Sundays for children. Tucked away in the cosy Orchard Room, we’ll be ‘seeing the world with large eyes’ (in the words of John Ruskin), visiting imaginary landscapes and improbable places with shadowy paper puppets, live music and glorious hand-held props.


Art is often at its most potent and powerful when it is allowed to permeate people’s lives in ordinary, unexpected ways. Our humble little cafe isn’t just a gateway into the art and music inside the building, but a place where Art can be ‘reframed’ in the context of everyday life, grounded in human experience, bringing us back to earth, to what we love and why. 


(This article featured in the January 2023 edition of the Stapleford Messenger)