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Ruth Rogers: Uniting People With Space and Support To Solve Local Problems and Make Life Better for Everyone Around Us

At The Canvas, we believe humans are amazing, they just need the space to be so.
The Canvas is that space.

We unite people with space and support to solve local problems and make life better for everyone around us. We’re a basecamp for change, and provide spaces for hope.

What that means in real life is our kitchen sends out free meals to our vulnerable neighbours, our vegan Cafe runs a Pay it Forward board providing free food + drinks for our local homeless community, and our Community Hub + Creative Space are platforms and incubators for events and projects supporting mental health + social change.

Tell us about yourself?

I spent my 20s as an actor and puppeteer, most notably performing as Joey’s Head in the West End production of War Horse. A back injury left me unable to perform, and I’d always been a positive activist on the side; I founded and grew a positive body image movement called Body Gossip alongside my performing career.

The idea for The Canvas grew out of Body Gossip; specifically the idea of inviting the general public to share their ideas, secrets and stories on an unusual canvas. At The Canvas, it’s the walls of our cafe, which are host to an ever-evolving piece of live art, as our customers write answers to questions around happiness, memories and self. And my background in theatre and performance inspired me to open the Creative Space at The Canvas, which has hosted plays, comedy, music and so much more.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

Stop trying to hold on so tightly; let things evolve, and trust that you’re doing a really amazing thing that people love, and it’s all going to work out fine.

What problem does your business solve?

It sounds very broad, but we aim to solve many problems that are facing People and Planet; we’re a vegan business, because it’s the most positive step a person can make for their health, for the planet and for animals.

We enable acts of kindness through our Pay It Forward board, which enables our local homeless community to receive free hot drinks and meals (and vital friendship and acknowledgement) every day. We send out free meals to our local vulnerable neighbours too, thanks to our Double Helpings project with Gilbert and George.

We’re a space for the launch and growth of ideas that improve people’s mental health, and we’re a platform for projects and events and positive social change. We’re a space that encourages humanity and kindness; those are both the solutions to many problems.

What is the inspiration behind your business?

Back in 2007, when I was launching Body Gossip, I took my white living room sofa to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and invited passers-by on the Royal Mile to write one sentence about their body on the sofa. I was blown away by people’s honesty; Mums of teenage girls were saying to me ‘THANK YOU. I’ve seen what she’s written and now I can talk to her about it.” Partners were saying “I didn’t know you felt that way, I LOVE that bit about you.”

Inspired, I repeated the sofa project at events all over the UK. It was at the Vitality Show when a woman in her mid-30s wrote FINGERS CROSSED. Her best friend asked what she meant. “I was going to tell you later, but I’m pregnant.” After a series of miscarriages, she felt she could inally start telling people…but she told the sofa first.

And so the idea for The Canvas was born.

What is your magic sauce?

Everything we do focuses on how we can help make life better for others. Our Friday food bank doesn’t only provide vital sustenance for local families, it also reduces food waste through our partnership with FareShare.

Our vegan menu is delicious and accessible, meaning that even if it’s your only vegan meal that week, you’ve made a great positive step for yourself, the planet, and the animals. We buy from businesses that are local or purposeful, ideally both.

Our incredible homemade cakes will put a smile on your face, and also the homeless man or woman you pay-forward one for. The free events in mental health and wellbeing our spaces enable have helped people move away from suicidal thoughts, and brought communities together.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

I’d love to see more Canvases around the country, pushing their roots of kindness and compassion into communities, and supporting local suppliers and social businesses.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

I opened my business without any hospitality experience, and I had to learn on the job how to manage a cafe, a team of staff, a menu, finances and admin. The first few years were brutal. If The Canvas was just a cafe, I wouldn’t have had the energy to continue; all the community and charitable work we do around the cafe kept me going, and the wonderful customers who would boost my confidence by reacting so positively to what I was building.

How do people get involved/buy into your vision?

If you live in London, come to visit us at our basecamp just off Brick Lane; 42 Hanbury St. If you don’t, you can support us by visiting our Double Helpings shop and either buy an exquisite Gilbert and George plate, or a £10 voucher that pays-forward for someone in need.

If you’re a business with a canteen, would you consider buying a batch of Double Helpings plates for your staff to eat off? It would certainly be a conversation starter!
We’re also actively looking to grow, so if you’ve a space that would benefit from a Canvas, email [email protected]

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