The Café

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Retired Downs Ranger Gordon Milward tells us about the origins of the café, and Gail Tate, the owner gives us a flavour of the café atmosphere. The customers themselves have all come in for different reasons.

Tea room before sunrise (Rob Brewer)


Gordon Milward:

The toilets on the Downs are run by the environmental health department section, cleansing and late nineties, early 2000, they decided they didn’t want to use that toilet, the gents toilet, they wanted to combine the gents and ladies. They were looking for uses for the building, rather than just leave it empty. , It was suggested that they advertise for people to come forward with their own plans of how they would develop it and turn it into a café. We had the tea van on the Downs, by the water tower which was a caravan that would be towed away. Downs Committee always wanted to put in something. It was almost like a little competition, and there was six, six people who came forward with plans and ideas.

Morning, usual? OK

Customer 1:
We come because we have just fnished a run and we like to reward ourselves with a hot drink. We have either hot chocolate or coffee.

Customer 2:
Usually to meet my Mum and have a coffee, socialise and walk on the Downs. Walk my dog , I’m a regular.

Customer 3:
I meet here once a week with a bunch of other Mums and we gop and run round the Downs and do fitness round the Downs. We come for a coffee afterwards most weeks ….(friend prompting – and cake)…and cake.

Gail Tate:
My company’s been running it now since 2009. At the moment we’re sitting inside the café, it’s quite a busy day, it’s a very wet day outside, quite a lot of people inside. It was a gentlemans edwardian toilet which John Hardy took on I think in about 2004, and converted from a gentlemans toilet into a café,a dn it was known as the Downs Tea Rooms. When he was doing that he removes a lot of trees which were around the building and opened up the space outsdie to make it a focal point for people to come to the Downs. I think in the beginning a lot of people were very sceptical as to whether it was going to work or not. A lot of people thought it was an unsavoury thing ot convert a toilet into a café. Inside it is a beautiful building with very high ceilings and you can see the original beams in here. It’s an unusual café and its sucha great location.

Customer 4:
We just fancied a coffee, we were at a mums group round the corner and this was a place that suited both of us because of its location. We each live either side so its imbetween the two of us.

Customer 5:
I’m training to be a child psychotherapist, part of my job is to receive analysis. Having this café here’s pretty good because I come here four times a week and I have a cooffee either side of my analysis.

Gail Tate:
I just think that most people whe you know the Downs you love the Downs and I’m just really delighted to be able to have the café on the Downs to help other people enjoy it. I’ve got two dogs so I walk my dogs up here quite often, I come up here and I get a takeaway coffee and I go for a walk. I also have got children, my children are quite grown up now but they come up ehre and they walk the digs up here as well. Bristol is such a great city and such a diverse city and something like using this buisling to make it into a café attracts so many people to the Downs and all different age groups, all diffeent walks of life and I think this is how most people would like Bristol to be seen, as green space being used every day.

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