Early this year we began work on updating and refurbishing the Albany café because, well, it really needs it. Our hard-working staff team are struggling to keep it clean and presentable and our lovely customers aren’t always getting the speed or quality of service we’d like due to some quite specific practical issues. We’re also very aware of all the changes locally – with great new independent bars and cafes popping up (and some slightly less independent ones) and lots of new people moving in next door to and all around the Albany – we wanted to make sure the Albany café could continue offer something unique and competitive within the local ecology. That’s about more than the décor of course and the team have done quite a lot of work over the last year to refine the menu, focus even more on local suppliers and use more fresh produce grown in our garden.
We chose Studio Raw to do the work in the café because they understand some of this pretty well – they worked with us on designing our current logo and brand identity several years ago and they’re now also our newest ‘resident company’, that’s what we call the other organisations who are based in our building, having asked if they could move in at the bottom of our garden in their very own cabin late last year! (A great example of how we do things a little bit differently to most arts venues!
The brief was to suggest a new name and a new look for the menu as well as physical changes to the layout, décor and space, all for a bijou budget! We asked them to consult with our staff and other resident organisations to design the changes as well as our regular café users. They’ve done just that and the process has been eye opening.
It’s always been a hard balancing act to get the things right in our café because we need it to make money in order to justify keeping it but it sits at the heart of the building, so we also need it to be welcoming to such a massive range of people. It is taken over every Tuesday by older people doing everything from choir to crafts when we have Meet Me at the Albany, packed full of families when we have Sunday theatre shows, a regular theatre bar when we have shows on and a haven and regular haunt for loads of people who are all looking for different things, from students using the WiFi to do academic work to homeless and vulnerable people who just want somewhere safe, warm and welcoming to hangout.
This has been so apparent in the feedback we’ve gathered from people who use the café. Lots of people saying it’s great value and great quality, others the opposite – that they feel it’s too expensive, some people saying they love relaxing there with kids or that they like it because it’s quiet and relaxing and others saying the kids are noisy or disruptive or the music is too loud – you get the picture… you can never please everyone and you certainly can’t when the range of needs and wants is so broad.
But overall it has surprised us just how much people like and appreciate the space for the very same things that make it a challenge – they feel it fits with what we hope the organisation is and does – they described it as ‘vibrant’, ‘chilled out and warm’, ‘friendly’. They really get that it is a space for everyone – including the green and outdoor space in the garden – and they value that. Over and over, the atmosphere was praised and it’s defining characteristic of openness to all referenced.
We’ll be doing most of the work in late April and really hope it will be well received… by most people at least!
Head of Food and Beverage, the Albany