Want to have a good time in London, while keeping your moral conscience? Asheem Singh — author of The Moral Marketplace: How Mission Driven Millennials and Social Entrepreneurs are Changing Our World, and co-founder at Gotilo.org — tells you how.
London is at the epicentre of a new ethical earthquake. Whether it's The Evening Standard partnering up with the Felix Project to take on food waste, or Morgan Freeman starring in a documentary featuring Joshua Coombes — the barber with a heart who offers free haircuts to homeless folks in London — kindness is firmly on the capital's agenda.
London's nightlife is no exception. That's right: to go with your ethical tees, bags, phones and more, you can now change the world in small but significant ways while hitting the town.
I have spent the last decade getting to know this fascinating movement from the inside. As part of this, I spent last year ethically exploring our beloved capital and uploading my findings to the Good Times London blog. Here are my top 10 places where you can have fun, and give back. Each one, offers something unique, different and better than its big brand, big business counterparts — and at the same time has a positive impact on our city and our community.
1. When Gigs Give Back: Union Chapel, Islington
The Union Chapel is Elvis Costello's favourite London gig venue. A beautiful auditorium that runs programmes to help the homeless.
The Grade 1-Listed, gothic space is jaw-dropping… it's no surprise that some of the world's most famous musicians come to play here, from symphonic storyteller Jon Hopkins to superstars Noel Gallagher and the late Amy Winehouse.
But the chapel also supports an array of community and projects. Take The Margins Project, Union Chapel's support centre for people facing homelessness, isolation or in crisis. The Project provides everything from a winter shelter and regular drop-ins to a training programme at the on-site Margins Cafe. If you make it to a gig or event, don’t forget to grab some of the homemade food on offer, which keep the social part sustainable.
2. A feel-good foodie enclave: The Canvas, Shoreditch
Just off Brick Lane, lives a café with a simple mission: to be your Happy Place. The Canvas is a café and creative venue which offers much more than the typical London café fare. It has teamed up with the Museum of Happiness to run free events and workshops to reduce stress, raise mental wellness, and connect with others. You can find everything from mindfulness and relaxation workshops to singing lessons and supper clubs.
The coffee's great, the vegan food is awesome and one reviewer called their fries 'the best in London.' Oh, and if you really want to let loose, you can even write on the walls...
3. High art, heart n soul: The Albany, Deptford
Situated in delightful Deptford, The Albany is an amazing venue with an eclectic programme whose every beam and floor tile says 'community.'
Today, resident at the Albany are 24 companies — including the internationally renowned Heart n Soul who work with artists with learning disabilities; Apples & Snakes, the UK's leading performance poetry organisation; and a number of other arts and community organisations.
The calendar is eclectic, involving family events, theatre pieces, gardening clubs, events for young creative collaborators and more.
4. Altruist Al fresco: Dalston Roof Park
Seasoned — and seasonal — city explorers will have probably graced the Dalston rooftop bar at one time over the last few summers. But while the bar itself is a hipster classic, there’s more going on under the hood. The Roof Park is owned by the Bootstrap Company, which helps local young people into employment. Your entry fee supports this charity's work.
The rooftop is just one of three community spaces owned by Bootstrap. There's also a repurposed second world war bunker (yes, really) and a bee garden. This started life as an abandoned car park and is now occupied by local emerging designers. It is, like, totally buzzing.
5 and 6. Cinema for sustainability: The Nomad (everywhere) and The Lexi, Willesden Green
The Nomad is a pop-up cinema that prides itself on creating a festival atmosphere and an immersive setting. At a typical screening there might be music or dance masterclasses, tasty street food, or even a bookable Magic Carpet.
100% of the distributable profits go to The Sustainability Institute — a pioneering sustainable living and learning charity supporting families in rural South Africa. Projects supported to date include a crèche for local infants; school meals, solar power and more.
The Nomad is a sister project of The Lexi in Willesden Green — another award-winning social enterprise community cinema.
7, 8 and 9. Posh nosh with a positive impact: The Clink, Brixton. The Brigade, London Bridge. Fifteen, Old Street
No list would be complete without a nod to a few legendary London restaurants that have a positive impact on our community. So book a table at The Clink, Brixton, the number 1 rated London restaurant on Tripadvisor, which helps train ex-offenders in high quality kitchens so there is less chance they go back inside.
Or check out The Brigade near London Bridge, which gives culinary opportunities to homeless folks and people with mental illnesses.
Finally, Jamie Oliver is having a bit of trouble with his Italian eateries at the moment, but one restaurant that never goes out of style is Fifteen, which gives local young people a start in a top kitchen.
1o. Cakes and coffee taking on knife crime: Good Hope, Hither Green
Finally, a story that close to my — and the city's — heart. When Teenager Jimmy Mizen was senselessly stabbed in Hither Green, his grieving parents responded by working to bring the community together. Good Hope Café was born.
It has been a phenomenal success. Good Hope Hither Green has been joined by two more cafes as well as a schools project, which offers young people a chance to get on the work ladder. Partner projects with Drumbeat School offers personalised placements for young people with autism to acquire essential skills.
The cafes are lovely, homely places, with staples like avo-smothered sourdough complimented by lattes. There are also some fantastic community events, from open mic nights, to singalongs for the kids. With knife crime sadly on the rise in our capital, getting behind the message of Good Hope and supporting social enterprises like these is one way that we can all do our bit to spread the love…
Thanks to Adam Glass of Gotilo.org, who contributed some of the ideas and words for this feature.