Who Still Uses London's Internet Cafés?

By Kate O'Sullivan Last edited 10 months ago
Who Still Uses London's Internet Cafés?
Solomon's Internet cafe

Ah, the internet café. Beacon of hope for the last-minute pre-interview printing job. But in a world where even EasyJet and RyanAir no longer charge you for not having a print out, who really uses internet cafés anymore?

Solomon’s Internet Café, Vauxhall

Solomon's is open until 7pm
Solomon's is open until 7pm

Solomon, of Vauxhall café name fame, has had the business for seven years. Tucked away off the main drag, you have to be local to know it exists. It does sandwiches, tea and coffee, printing and photocopying.

But who comes in?

People in need of a workspace

One of Solomon's colleagues (who didn't want to be named — let's call him Bob) tells us: "Students come in here from student residences nearby. They do their work in here, write assignments and print and apply for jobs. Everything.

"They don't do it in the library because they live far from the university."

It seems that this little internet café is actually part-student work space, especially for some of the international students who don't have Wi-Fi access at home.

People in need of a printer

This one is a no-brainer. Unsurprisingly printing is something that customers come into the café a lot to do, either on the PCs here or from their laptop. As Solomon says, "We have a good printer here — people can’t carry a printer with them everywhere!"

People in need of IT training

As is already evident, one of the things that brings locals into the café is necessity. Bob explains that people who come in are often computer illiterate. "Some of them, they don't know what the meaning is of a computer so we teach them to send emails to apply for jobs.

"They come in and then after a few days they learn how to send an email by themselves. One man came every day and now he is able to look for a job online."

People in need of a friend

For some customers, the café is more about the company than the internet.

Marian Brauner is 65, and lives just around the corner. She explains to us that Solomon and Bob work very hard. "I have been coming here for years," she says, "I don't use the internet though. Just come in for breakfast and lunch."

Solomon and Marian
Solomon and Marian

The café, Bob explains, is like a family — somewhere people can come and have a meal, "because nobody looks after her [Marian].

"All of them come in here, they don't go anywhere else. They are safe here and we all know each other.

"It is part of the community. It is just like you see on EastEnders!”

Spending a short time at Solomon's internet café, you realise this place has a better grasp of the needs of the local community than some of our politicians.

In another nod to the issues faced by residents living in the zone one/two area Bob adds: "Sometimes they come and they don't have enough money. So if they have £1 and they need £1.50 we say 'OK, next time'.

"Otherwise what do you say?"

Internet Café London, Little Portland Street

Internet Café London, Little Portland Street
Internet Café London, Little Portland Street

Just off Oxford Circus is Internet Café London. Unlike its local counterpart, there is no food and drink option here. Alongside the row of PCs and laser printer, the café offers a PO Box service and passport pictures.

P.O. Box
P.O. Box

Who goes in?

Well, people wanting to print things, and visitors to the city — makes sense given the location. But there are a few surprises here too.

People that want to scan

One of the customers, who didn't want to be named, is visiting the café to scan. "I have never scanned in my life, no idea what I am doing!" he says.

Scanner help is on-hand
Scanner help is on-hand

Syed Towsif Hassan is on duty and more than happy to show him the scanner and explain how he can send a copy to himself using Gmail. More tech support.

International celebrities

Syed Towsif catches us looking over at a familiar face glued on to the passport photo machine.

Syed Towsif Hassan
Syed Towsif Hassan

"Oh yes, Paris Hilton popped in here to get her passport photos done. I got a selfie with her, do you want to see?"

From Paris with love
From Paris with love

From the hyper-local to the slap-bang central, different beasts of internet café are playing a community role. Having the internet yourself is no excuse for not calling in.

Last Updated 03 January 2017