Talking to Linda Anderson at her bakery and coffee shop, The Kitchen, I was struck by her friendly, open nature and her skill in creating customised homemade cakes. Based in Croxley Green, between Watford and Rickmansworth, Linda’s shop is a popular place for community groups and customers wanting coffee plus high-quality cakes for all occasions. I asked her about the secret of her success.
Leslie: Please tell us about The Kitchen and the creative work that went into establishing and running the business.
Linda: After I was made redundant from Christian Aid I volunteered as a London Ambassador during the 2012 Games, whilst applying for new posts. Alongside this I found myself baking and increasingly friends and family asked me to bake cakes for them. Initially cupcakes but then birthday and other large celebration cakes. Gradually the business took over our family home, with ingredients, tools and finished products filling every room. After a while, I decided to stop looking for alternative work and to focus on baking. The Blockbuster video store at the end of our road then became vacant and after six months or so I decided on the spur of the moment to ask about renting it.
We ripped everything out – literally – and rebuilt it from scratch. We put in new wiring and plumbing, relaid the floor, removed and revived the ceiling. We built cupboards and worktops from sheets of mdf and put in an office, storeroom and studio with daylight panels. The whole place is light, airy and a joy to work in.
We aim to be a community hub – an open or public kitchen. A place where people can pop in to meet or make friends. We host a myriad of groups and activities from Book Lovers Group and Crochet Club to Kitchen Folk, the Dial Up and Yellow Comedy.
From running The Kitchen I have learned some hard facts about the reality of being your own boss and running a business. The costs involved, the staffing issues, the legislation to be complied with. I’ve also learned a lot about myself – the need for resilience, stamina and a sense of humour for starters!
Leslie: What were the stand-out experiences for you, working at Christian Aid?
Linda: I began life at Christian Aid as a Personal Assistant – working for one of the Directors. I then moved into Project Management when Christian Aid won the contract for a youth volunteering programme funded by the Department for International Development. Stand out experiences included many staff conferences – most of which I organised – where i met with colleagues and partners from around the world. And also my own travels overseas – to shanty towns in South America, visiting survivors of the tsunami in India, and most powerful of all travelling to the Middle East and meeting Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories.
Leslie: What did you learn from having an intern at The Kitchen with learning difficulties?
Linda: Working alongside A. has given me a much deeper insight into the challenges faced by those who have learning difficulties or who have experienced great trauma. I believe I have learned to be more patient, and to think more deeply and clearly about what jobs are suitable for someone and how I can help them achieve and feel that sense of achievement. I’ve also seen the wicked sense of fun and humour that may be possessed by someone with learning difficulties – aspects of their personality that you may not get to know until you spend time with someone on a daily basis..
Leslie: How has your own medical history shaped who you are?
Linda: My medical history is varied and colourful. I struggled with Anorexia Nervosa from my mid teens into my twenties. I have lived with Scoliosis since the age of 14 and had invasive surgery to correct the curve when I was fifty. Perhaps not surprisingly I have had bouts of depression and anxiety.
All of these experiences have given me a much greater and deeper understanding of what it is to be human. I have developed resilience over time, and also empathy with others. I believe these are factors in wanting to create a warm, welcoming, community space for people to spend time with friends and family so that they feel well supported whatever life throws at them.
Leslie: What do you enjoy and struggle with in life?
Linda: It’s maybe easier to start with the struggles. I struggle with injustice. With unfairness. With the huge disparity between rich and poor, and with situations such as the Occupation of Palestine and the tragedy unfolding in Syria. I struggle with the ways in which our beautiful planet is being destroyed – too many to list here but including the destruction of the forests, the burning of fossil fuels, the insistence on fracking, the pollution of the oceans and the greed that is prevalent. Our disposable society, where people want more bigger better faster newer and don’t repair things. The way that food is produced, especially in the meat industry.
On a personal level I do struggle with pain. With relationships – feeling a little like a square peg in a round hole at times because of my strong views. And with a work ethic that at times can border on the obsessive.
I enjoy life when these things are absent or under control. Time spent with a good friend, a film or a book. A beautiful walk in the countryside or a concert, film or play that makes me think and focusses my attention, takes me away from some of the everyday worries!
Leslie: Thank you Linda. I’ve enjoyed meeting your book group at The Kitchen more than once. I see you have a regular blog yourself here.
In next week’s blog, SILENT VOICES, Karen Jane Cannon writes about recovering the voices of ‘invisible’ women from the past.
ABOUT LESLIE TATE’S BOOKS:
- Heaven’s Rage is a memoir and a collection of lyrical essays. In brief: ‘Heaven’s Rage is an imaginative autobiography. Reporting on feelings people don’t usually own up to, Leslie Tate explores addiction, cross-dressing and the hidden sides of families. Writing lyrically, he brings together stories of bullying, childhood dreams, thwarted creativity and late-life illness, discovering at their core the transformative power of words to rewire the brain and reconnect with life. “A Robin Red breast in a Cage / Puts all Heaven in a Rage” – William Blake. You can buy Heaven’s Rage here.
- Purple is a coming-of-age novel, a portrait of modern love and a family saga. Set in the North of England, it follows the story of shy ingénue Matthew Lavender living through the wildness of the 60s and his grandmother Mary, born into a traditional working-class family. Both are innocents who have to learn more about long-term love and commitment, earning their independence through a series of revealing and closely-observed relationships. Purple is the first part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Purple here.
- Blue tells the story of Richard and Vanessa Lavender, who join a 90s feminist collective sharing childcare, political activism and open relationships. Boosted by their ‘wider network’ they take secondary partners, throw parties and observe the dance of relationships amongst their friends. But finding a balance between power and restraint, and handling shared love, proves difficult… Blue is the second part of the Lavender Blues trilogy. You can read more about/buy Blue here.