Report and Photograph by Marcia Walker, BWV Reporter
Set up in 2012, The ‘At The Well Café & Laundrette’ is in the heart of cultural Stokes Croft Bristol. It was the original idea of Ellen, one of the three professional, hardworking, independent women and sisters who run this visionary ‘community hub’, along with their valued staff. Ellen, Cassie and Lily, are examples of sisterhood, no doubt enforced by their supportive Mum. Between 2006 and 2010 the four of them visited Ndola, Zambia ‘in pursuit of projects supporting women and children’. All were inspired by the ‘human interaction and socialising’ they witnessed when necessary daily tasks such as collecting water at the water tap and washing clothes occurred, despite ‘terrible material poverty.’ It brought people together and gave a platform for community contact and exchange, which benefitted everyone.
Ellen was often in her local launderette as she preferred to dry her clothes out in the dryer, rather than having wet clothes hanging around in her flat. It was during her laundry waiting times in 2009 that the seeds for an idea for a launderette café where you could enjoy a cuppa and perhaps a chat with others while you waited began to emerge. She also considered how wonderful it would be if there were friendly staff who could help with the machines. Ellen felt she had found a necessary ‘daily task’ that could bring people together and encourage socialising for the benefit of the wider community and so she began to convince her sisters and her mum to go with her idea. Ellen graduated from Bristol University with a doctorate in civil engineering and also works 4 days a week for a Bristol based engineering consultancy company. Cassie is a Sociology graduate from UWE and Lily, who is the Manager, graduated with English Literature also from Bristol University. They have all worked tirelessly to bring to the community of Bristol a truly unique café experience that leaves you feeling happy that you found it, because you do want to go back with your laundry and or your computer and just sit, eat, have a cuppa and share stories as us ladies have done recently.
Ellen, Cassie and Lily renovated the once derelict building which survived the Tesco riots in 2011 and have continued to keep their independent business going successfully for over seven years, during which time they’ve seen the Cheltenham Road competition substantially increase from having only two or three other café’s to now, according to Lily’s last count, ‘seventeen!’. The sisters have a strong collaborative formula that includes sourcing their food from other local independent businesses and offers healthy, value for money ‘quick bites’, with great ground coffee and a warming pot of tea. They also offer a safe space to work on your computer for 50p internet access, as well as printing for around 10p per sheet, colour is also available for a bit extra. You can find out more on their website at www.at-the-well.co.uk.