A workers’ co-operative in Northern Ireland has opened a café and event space after receiving a loan from us.
Lunasa Café opens this week after nearly two years of hard work from the co-op’s four members. The old exhibition space on King Street, Belfast, has been completely refurbished and now boasts a well equipped kitchen, disabled access and a freshly decorated dining room.
The café is part of a larger project called Folktown, which is working to regenerate and reimagine the area through the provision of community based activity; encouraging inclusion, community involvement, tourism and trade. Folktown contains a mix of small traders, residential property, pubs, restaurants and youth organisations. There is a vibrant local arts and music community, and an ever-growing demand for social spaces.
Lunasa’s founding member Elena is a highly qualified chef, who gave up working in Michelin starred kitchens to take more control of her working life. She met her fellow members – James, Ryan and Gerard – through a local social centre. Elena comments: “Anyone who works in the hospitality industry knows how difficult it can be – long, unsociable hours and very tiring work. We’re passionate about creating a business that puts people before profit. The welfare and wellbeing of our members is at the heart of everything we do.”
James adds: “We all share similar values, especially in terms of social and economic outlook, so setting up as a co-operative was an obvious choice.”
The café is open from 8am until 8pm, providing breakfast and lunch for commuters and workers. The menu combines simple, wholesome dishes like soup and curry with more adventurous creations such as spiced lamb with mint and onion dressing. Produce is supplied by local organic growers wherever possible. The members also offer outside catering for private parties, functions, weddings and funerals.
Our loan adviser Ian Rothwell said: “We’re really impressed with Lunasa, particularly the member’s determination and commitment to co-operative working. They’re already very much a part of the local artistic and social enterprise community – and make a great addition to Belfast. We’re delighted to have made our first loan to a Northern Irish co-operative, and hope there will be many more.”