South Londoners ‘heartbroken’ after treasured non-profit café closes for good

Residents have been left “heartbroken” after a treasured cafe which doubled as a fully fledged social enterprise announced its permanent closure last week.

Breaking the news on its website and social media channels, Cafe Van Gogh, in Brixton Road, Oval, cited rising costs due to Brexit and the pandemic, high energy prices and the effects of home working on the lunchtime economy as contributing factors.

A spokeswoman said: “Put simply, sales have been significantly down for several months now, whilst our costs have done nothing but rise.”

Known for serving vegan food from breakfast through dinner, sweet treats and two for one margaritas on Thursday nights, Cafe Van Gogh had been at the heart of its community for nine years.

Following the announcement, the cafe’s Instagram page was flooded with regulars commenting their heartbreak and recounting fond memories of the South London gem.

One user posted: “I don’t think I can put into words how much I have enjoyed regularly coming into the cafe.

“Me and my fiancé managed to celebrate in the cafe the day we had our wedding bands read. 

“The team kindly poured us each an extra full glass of fizz and it’s a lovely memory.”

Another wrote: “I am absolutely heartbroken. I adored coming here with my family, especially my mother who works with disabled children. 

“Cafe Van Gogh will not be forgotten and will remain an inspiration, every business can learn from you.”

The cafe was seeking charitable status at the time of its closure, but due to financial circumstances a spokeswoman said the business could not afford to continue trading whilst the application was pending.

For nearly a decade, Cafe Van Gogh has worked with 60 adults and young people with learning disabilities to train them in the skills needed for a job in hospitality. 

In 2020, only seven percent of South London adults with a learning disability were employed, according to Mencap. 

Cafe Van Gogh in Brixton Road (Picture: Google Street View)

The cafe’s work offered learning-disabled adults and young people independence through its training programme and the mentorship of job coaches.

Since opening, the cafe has handed out more than 2,000 free hot drinks to key workers such as ambulance drivers, road sweepers and delivery workers through customers’ donations from its ‘pay it forward’ scheme. 

The cafe also claims to have never sent food waste to landfill, sold an item packaged in single use plastic or sold products from multinational companies including coca cola and nestle.

In its closing statement, a spokeswoman for Cafe Van Gogh said: “We’ve seen friendships and partnerships start at our tables, at least five couples we know had their first date with us and come back on their anniversaries to celebrate in the space that they first met.”

The cafe also offered a thank you to customers and urged the public to continue supporting its staff.  

It said: “Every sale we’ve ever made has been an act of support from you, our wonderful customers. We hope you’ve enjoyed our service even half as much as we’ve enjoyed serving you. 

“We have a bank of talented staff that are now on the job market, chefs, baristas, waiters and kitchen porters. Some of whom have a learning disability. 

“If you have any opportunities for these people, please be in touch on our Instagram page, which we’ll be keeping open for the next couple of months.”

 Pictured top: Cafe Van Gogh in Brixton Road (Picture: Google Street View)

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