The Hornbeam café and community centre can be found on Hoe Street, an ancient thoroughfare lined with no-frills shops and eateries with local colour aplenty. The street made national news recently when residents lifted up a bus to free a trapped unicyclist, and again when it had to be closed following a mass brawl between teenagers.
With its murals, flowerpots serving as bike locking stations, and funky lettering, the Hornbeam is easily visible from a distance. The café is run by an organisation called Norman Loves – headed up by Jenny Parker and Kate Bentley and boosted by volunteers, who serve simple and wholesome vegetarian breakfasts and lunches made from largely organic ingredients.
A warm and pleasant space, the café also hosts film nights and supper clubs, and sells locally made organic jams and chutneys. On Saturday mornings families fill the tables soon after opening, while young couples as well as older residents stop in for a coffee before picking up fruit and vegetables at the stall operating outside. Children filter in through the side door on their way to music lessons upstairs.
The Hornbeam also houses the Forest Recycling Project, a community enterprise selling reclaimed paint at vastly reduced prices, diverting the paint from landfill to homeowners with DIY needs; and OrganicLea, a local growing initiative that runs a local veg box scheme akin to Growing Communities. People can sign up to the scheme in the café, which also operates as a pick-up point.
The Hornbeam has a loyal local following, with heartfelt reviews on Yelp. With the boost to the area that the new Lea Bridge station will provide, it should continue to thrive, as it serves people from vastly different age groups and backgrounds, and provides avenues for further involvement for those who wish to socialise. Although may look a bit threadbare inside, this is a true community hub.
458 Hoe Street, E17 9AH