Earlier this evening, I attended a session at the Houses of Parliament, where Helen Michael (Owner of Cafe Buzz in North Finchley) addressed a session of politicians and business people. The session was organised by by the Federation of Small Business and also featured "dragon" Theo Paphites, Chuka Umunna MP and Lors Parry Mitchell.
All three made excellent speeches, but Helen stole the show, explaining how Cafe Buzz has reinvented itself as a key part of the community, in the face of a relentless onslaught from the great and good at Barnet Council and the multi national tax dodging coffee chains, who run parking. Having "been there" for the whole story, it almost sounded fantasistic, hearing recount the last two years. It is beyond comprehension that two years ago, pay and display was still running, Brian Coleman was well repected (in certain quarters) and Cafe Buzz was just one of thousands of cafes serving up tasty breakfasts to the hungry local populace. The concept that its owener Helen Michael would bring down Londons highest paid politician was not even a fantasy.
Helen talked about the role Cafe Buzz plays in the community. How it has become the centre of all manner activities, a place where activists met to plan the campaign to save Friern Barnet library as well as knitting circles and the FSB networking events. Helen said how the large chains had moved in. Starbucks, Costa, Tesco coffee, Coffee republic have all pitched up. She said how Tesco Coffee had stood outside her cafe, giving out free coffee leaflets in a direct attack on her business. She explained how the one advantage her business had was that she didn't have to refer back to head office when she needed to change something.
I wondered what those FSB members who don't know Helen or the story would have thought? They certainly gave her a good reception. Whilst Theo Paphites and Chuka Umanna gave great speeches, Helen Michael gave us a taste of what it is like to run a business in a Borough which has lost the plot. She has been described as both Inspirational and a Troublemaker. I guess those of us who know Barnet are rather proud of our "Inspirational Troublemakers". I know I am.
Please support your local businesses such as Cafe Buzz. Buy a tea, coffee or meal there. I promise you won't be disappointed