Former actress Ruth Rogers is the driving force behind The Canvas, a vegan cafe and social enterprise in Shoreditch. Using a ‘Pay it Forward’ initiative, it has partnered with Crisis to feed homeless people in the local community.
Describing herself as “the sort of person who can never say no to an opportunity”, Ruth was previously an actress/puppeteer in the West End’s War Horse before establishing Body Gossip, a registered charity that has sold out live theatre shows across the country with the aim of confronting the issue of body image.
“The Canvas is a blank canvas for people’s thoughts and stories”
In the hope of raising the profile of her charity, in 2007, Ruth took her white living room sofa to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and placed it on the Royal Mile. Passers by were asked to write a sentence about their body as Ruth explains, “you invite people to write on an unusual canvas and they open up in a way that is different than if you gave them a microphone or piece of paper. I thought that was interesting and it could be a really cool concept for a space. That’s what gave me the idea for The Canvas.”
“The Canvas is a blank canvas for people’s thoughts and stories. From the basic level, you can write on the walls and ask questions around community, the best meals you’ve ever had, books you couldn’t put down.. And also we provide a space and a platform for people to tell stories and launch new ideas. Essentially we host positive activism in all its forms.”
The idea, Ruth says, started off as a “place that gathers people’s stories”, but, keen not to rely on funding or donations, had to evolve into a sustainable business. “There’s a beautiful energy around a cafe” Ruth continues. “It encourages people to feel at home and it’s open seven days a week” – something vitally important in providing resources such as it’s ‘Pay it Forward Board’.
The Canvas has, over time, established a small group of regular homeless visitors who can enjoy cake and coffee paid for by the generosity of others. People wishing to use the cafe’s free ‘Community Hub’ space for events are encouraged to pay-it-forward, an idea that has now evolved into a ‘Hot Meals for the Homeless’ campaign in support of Crisis.
“We’ve got a really valuable infrastructure of a kitchen that is staffed by people who care about helping others”
Having already provided hot, hearty meals for 400 homeless people, Ruth explains her goal is to feed 100 people every week and is now running a crowdfunder to help her achieve the goal – turning The Canvas into a “living, breathing space” that is actively helping others.