Estimated reading time:6 minutes, 42 seconds
Everyone has a story. Arsenal fan Chris Evans had a gut feeling that Finsbury Park needed a workspace above a coffee shop so in 2013 he opened Blighty offering a taste of San Francisco live-work synergy to Islington. Here he explains more about behind the scenes Blighty, touching on eggs, ebay, pop ups and a new Anderson Shelter in the garden.Â InterviewÂ by Nicola Baird.
Two years ago – on 15 February 2013 – Chris Evans took the keys to his new property, the old Lee Valley College on Blackstock Road.
âWe didnât open Blighty Coffee for another three months,â he says remembering back to a hectic time of painting and ebay bidding. Two years on the coffee shop and community workspace is thriving. âThere are three full-time staff and lots of part-time,â says Chris, plus nearly 30 currently renting (as hot deskers or regularly) the networked office space above the cafĂ©.
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Blighty Coffee is on the Hackney side of Blackstock Road just down from Sainsburyâs and opposite the N4 library. Itâs a friendly place also offering delicious food – Winston is their best selling full English breakfast but Chris recommends the Shropshire Eggs with grilled asparagus.
Downstairs are the mums and buggies, upstairs itâs cosier with a piano, sofa and walls of pre-war memorabilia (bunting, golf clubs, hockey sticks, leather box suitcases) that add to the British feel. It’s usually busy, but âmost people who come here are in their 30s,â he says. On the Monday afternoon I do this interview they also all have laptops (thereâs free wi-fi).
BlightyÂ also has a garden sitting space that acts as a sun trap (when the weather obliges) and can be used for meals most of the week and until 10pm on Friday and Saturday evenings. âIâm building an Anderson Shelter,â says Chris taking me to see a shiny shed where a family or friends could gather to enjoy breakfasts. The plan is to gently soundÂ the air raid siren indoorsÂ on Saturdays â the first person who then runs to the shelter will win themselves a Brownie. ChrisÂ then does a test run of the siren (it’s not that loud!), cutting into the Blighty blend of cool jazz, followed by Winston Churchillâs famous âWe will fight them on the beachesâ speech that has some of the flat white drinkers looking a fraction bemused. Itâs not Saturday you seeâŠ
Places Chris Evans likes in Islington
When I was 16 or 17 Iâd come to see Arsenal and go past the GunnersÂ pub. It is lined with Arsenal legends and going there now gives me that nostalgic feel.
The people who work in Blighty ArtsÂ do a social once a month â we often go to Rowans.
I like playing five-a-side football at the Sobell Centre.
Dotori is good. Find it at 3a Stroud Green Road, N4. Tel: 020 7263 3562.
Iâve gone off Angel â itâs too gentrified, but I like Coffee Works. Itâs high quality and clearly designed by a coffee nerd. They have a very expensiveÂ espresso machine â there are only three of this type in England!
I like walking down Holloway Road and going to Waitrose to buy a few treats.
So how did Blighty come about? âI loved coffee but I was a bit fearful of running a coffee shop. With so many Mediterranean and chicken shops on Blackstock Road I had a gut feeling that a workspace above a coffee shop would do well here. I used to run a workspace in Wood Green and I think of my job as introducing people. Iâve got my desk in the corner and try to facilitate a lot of conversation â itâs good to be able to meet the people who work here.â
With desk users tending to live local (including standup comedians, musicians, consultants, a branding agency, developers, designers, illustrators, various social enterprises, photographer and most recently a musiciansâ agent) the opportunities for networking at the monthly socials are huge.
Itâs a creative place to visit â there are ceramic courses, life Â and portrait drawing (on Thursdays) and recentlyÂ a three-day pop up kitchen. âItâs called Bangers and Mash up and really fits the Blighty theme,â adds Chris.
Chris studied business at university and before Blighty was exclusively working on internet projects, often commuting between London and India. He still works with the Hyderabad team, knows a few words of Telugu and helps an orphanage with their micro-credit project to get women into business.
But Chris, 37, lives in Islington â at a new apartment off Fonthill Road â and though heâs livedÂ out of the borough occasionally his first home was on Avenell Road, N4.
âI used to think Finsbury Park was a dive coming from a farm in Shropshire,â he says with his disarmingly friendly manner. âBack then I didnât know London, but I wanted to live by Arsenal. When I first moved to London I thought there was no community – I found my first place on Avenell Road in Loot magazine. But now I think of Finsbury Park people as friendly folk. I can see there are people who live nearby, who like the community, and even invite you to their parties. Itâs nice that my fears about starting this business havenât been realised.”
- Blighty, 35-37 Blackstock Road, N4 Â http://www.blightygroup.com/
Weekdays it opens at 7.30am; weekends 8.30pm.
Get 5 per cent off your bill if you are dressed in 1940s fashion
- Blighty ArtsÂ (work space) costs ÂŁ90 a month forÂ 2 days a week, 7am-7pm. The full month is ÂŁ180.
Over to you
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This blog is inspired byÂ Spitalfields LifeÂ written by the Gentle Author.
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