Reading Time: 4 min
Social Impact: Creating a space that celebrates the true community of East London, its artists and its original locals.
In Hackney, it can be difficult to find a reasonably priced cup of coffee.
Call it a stereotype, but it’s one that’s based on truth. The stream of exciting young creatives that have flooded our wonderful area have made it one of the most exciting places to live in our nation’s capital. However, this can mean the area feels the effects of gentrification as big brands spread their roots in the new areas that are creative and affluent in equal measure.
It completely alienates the average East London inhabitant to extremes; the days you could pop around the corner to a local cafe for a 50p cup of tea are nearly gone. Meet the woman who wants to change that. She goes by the name of Diddy, and her eponymous Diddy’s Bar was founded three years ago with the aim to do just that; to create a space that worked for and with its locals and artists, and not without them. We popped by her colourful caffe to learn more about why she wants to work with both:
“Well, I find that there’s always been that link for me between hospitality and art; you’re often [working] in hospitality to fund an art career, but it’s not the best pay and has anti-social hours. But what I’ve done with the artists that work with our bar is to help in other ways and provide support in different ways.”
Is that something you were looking for when you started out? How did you come to be in the hospitality industry?
“Unlike my boyfriend who’s been to about ten different institutions, I finished A levels at 17 and didn’t go to uni! I then started working with Bistrotheque when I first started out, then I started working in TV in development and it was so much fun. A lot of people assume I ended it because something terrible had happened but I loved it. My only thing was if I’m going to work for 18 hours a day I may as well do it for myself! So I made the decision to do my own thing.”
When did you decide to make this move into hospitality?
“It was something I’d always wanted to do, always something that had been a big part of my life. I was on holiday with my boyfriend when he said ‘you need to just go for it.’
My dad had passed a few years earlier and I’d inherited some money; and I think it’s important to mention things like that when you talk about how you started your business. Business is full of people who can afford to start somewhere and aren’t very honest with it, they’ll talk like they’re completely self-made. For me it’s important to be transparent!”
How did you find the rest of the help to start your project?
“I was actually going to do a much bigger project that fell though, and for this I got a loan from a bank. For me that was more important than an angel investment or crowdfunding, which I always find a bit strange; when you get other people involved in a business at such an early stage you’re already relinquishing that control you have over your business.
For me, to be able to keep plans and events to myself is nice. Everything is done ourselves and on our own terms. We’d rather grow really slowly on our own terms than really fast on someone else’s, which is would what would have happened with an investor. Our plan is to do more events, more merch like I’m wearing now. We want to cultivate a cultural hub where things happen online and in real life. If there were fifty Diddy’s Bars, then the meaning wouldn’t be the same. Opening however many places in however many years isn’t the sign of growth for us.”
You can make however many places pop up in a chain, but the original can still be terrible!
“Right! It’s why we opened, we tried to be a positive change in Hackney. I learnt a lot working with Bistrotheque and their approach to collaboration and projects and this has informed my work here. I don’t think: ‘How many people can we get through the door?’ We want to bring joy and positive change without compromising. London is really stressful and cold and miserable sometimes, we want to change it.”
And how are you making this change? What gap did you see in the high street that needed filling?
“I think I made the mistake that people say: ‘Never open a business for yourself.’ Me and my friends used to think that there was nowhere in London we want to hang out in that was well designed, had nice music and was reasonably priced. A lot of bars in London are owned by the same kind of person, which is, more often than not, men who like motorbikes, leather jackets and rock music. There’s not many bars owned by women in the first place, and I think that can be really telling as well.”
How can you tell that a lot of bars are owned by the same person?
“It’s all through little things, like in terms of the music I play, its the only thing i get neurotic about and it’s a big part of the business. When you go into bars you can either tell it’s controlled by different people working or by a 45-year-old man who doesn’t know what the vast majority of people want to listen to.
In the daytime I play soul, jazz, world music but in the evening we play grime, hip-hop, RnB and afrobeat. It’s what people want to listen to but wouldn’t find anywhere outside of a club situation. It’s the only thing I’m strict about: we do not deviate from the playlist!”
Why is it so important to you?
“I want people to know that they come here and it’s inclusive in the way you wouldn’t see in Hackney. One one hand I’m a white privileged woman in Hackney, like a lot of owners of business around here; but I don’t want it to just be for people like me, that’s why we have inclusive music that doesn’t alienate people.
It’s why we charge affordable prices for drinks, it’s so important to me that people don’t walk past and think it isn’t for them. I think that’s what I think and a lot of people feel about a lot of places in Hackney. I want to make prices affordable, I had a £4.50 pint that’s now still really good at £5, pricing is so important to making people feel included. I have a cup of tea for £1; I want the old lady that’s lived round the corner forever who’s watched area change to be able to come in somewhere warm and friendly for a cuppa. People appreciate that.”
What’s the artistic concept behind the collaborative space?
“We always wanted Diddy’s Bar to be a changeable space which is why it’s all white like a gallery; the props and art can go up and down. Above anything else we’re invested in our community, we have shop in the middle that’s expanding where everything is deigned by people we know.”
What about in terms of your successful events? Are you open to collaborations?
“Yes and no! We don’t just want to be like everywhere else; so won’t let some random come and do events here. We’ll get approached by spirit brands who want to work with us and assume we’ll say yes, but it’s so important we stay true to ourselves. I always use this phrase, but every venue nowadays is like a Kopparberg Sponsored barge party; brands use unique independent places for their benefit. We do do events, we just did a party with the Architecture Foundation, on recommendation by my boyfriend but I choose partners really carefully!”
Is the design of Diddy’s Bar is a collaborative effort between you and him?
“Oh my god of course, he’s an architect and a design freak so he loves clean nice colours, not too messy, he’s so refined and will nag me if I’ve left something out! The chairs were an homage to the greasy spoon, but are a design classic at the same time. When we have money we’ll get more and more. It all slowly but surely get’s a bit more, downstairs is the antidote; it’s absolutely mental. You’ll have to come by and check it out sometime!”