Alana Cassidy, Founder

cck team 2012 alana closeupWhy did you start Coffee, Cake & Kink?

I love coffee, cake & kink! Bringing them all together was the most natural thing for me to do. I wanted a space I could be comfortable being myself and knew that other people longed for it, too. There weren't, and still aren't, many places like that in London, except for few night time spaces. People were taking refuge in LGBT friendly pubs or cafes but they didn't have a space that they could call their own. We wanted to create a place where people who had never been to a club, or had never met someone who was into a particular subject could just sit down together, ask questions and just chat. The place where anyone walking in would see just ordinary people getting on with their lives.

I have always been on a mission of breaking down stereotypes, facilitating discussion and a free-flowing exchange of thoughts and ideas. What better way of doing that than making people comfy with a pot of great coffee, some yummy cakes and packing the place full of things that are both enjoyable and challenging, and bound to spark off stimulating conversations?

How does one come to run CCK? What did you do before?

Immediately before Coffee, Cake & Kink, I ran, an online magazine with a very similar taboo-breaking mission, and published London Fetish Maps. While the magazine needed to stop in order for us to be able to focus on CCK, the maps have been continued (by James, the graphic designer of the original maps). Before that, I worked at the European Newspaper, telecoms, and in financial management. My very first choice of career was the Royal Navy, where I spent 4 good years and did a fair bit of traveling - sadly, much of it in the sick bay! Some years later, an admiral's daughter ended up working for CCK, it's a small world..

Who are other people behind Coffee, Cake & Kink?

There is no doubt that there would not be CCK without Sonia, my partner, who has been on board from day 1. If I am the soul and the face of CCK, she is the brain, and is the one behind our business strategies, networking and HR. Coffee, Cake & Kink's arms, legs and machinery would have to be all our staff, volunteers and inters, the people who do the job at the end of the day. Key ones among them are Nigel (who mentored us through the early stages of the business), Ed, Mark and Vish (who all helped to keep us going IT-wise), Maxine (who went on to run CCK Socials), Gothicat and Penny (who helped to keep on top of all the admin), Jay (who kept our feet on the ground) and most recently, Ginger (who has helped to set up our internship programme), David (who helps us keep focused and on track) and Phil (who has built this website and may well play a bigger role in CCK in the years to come).

It has now been a few years since the Covent Garden cafe closed... why are you not back on the high street?

There are a couple of reasons for that, the main one being that we have not expected the 'kink' in the name to be quite as much of a problems as it has turned out to be. We have a lot of stories to share about that, and one day they will make for a truly good read. When you have done it for several years and you know it works, kink and all, you don't expect others not seeing that.

The second reason is that we took some time off for personal stuff. During the first five years of Coffee, Cake & Kink Sonia and myself pretty much carried it and we neglected other things in our lives in the process. After the Covent Garden cafe closed, we were able to reflect on these, and see what other matters needed seeing to. We used the time off the high street to do that.

The third reason why the physical space has not yet reopened is that, despite being less visible, Coffee, Cake & Kink has continued its operations throughout. We have not stopped for one day since the day we opened in 2003. We have merely adjusted how we work in line with the circumstances and have certainly been busy for most of the time. Because of that, we have perhaps not felt we have been 'away' as much as many of our customers have. We have been thinking recently how the community views us, and it's probably different to how we view ourselves. People who experienced Coffee, Cake & Kink at Covent Garden understandably identify with that. However, we would ask all to remember CCK's misssion and what we stand for. Coffee, Cake & Kink is about breaking down stereotypes and increasing social acceptability of kink, as well as all things alternative. The fulfillment of that, although linked to a physical presence, is not defined by it. While it would be nice to have a place where all could interact and have fun, and it continues to be our goal to bring it back, there are lots of things that we can get on with in the meantime.

What is your proudest moment so far?

Keeping going! It's been eight years so far so, and not easy ones - I am proud that we're still here and still doing our work. We've done something, we've done it well and we keep the dream and the vision alive. It's good to keep the light shining when so many others are going out. Lots of kink businesses are going fully online and giving up their premises, or closing down entirely, but we are still around.

We are in a different stage now, but we've stayed true to what we're about. Whilst we've not had a premises it's been very satisfying to work with the long-term unemployed and to give them confidence and new skills. As we're adapting and evolving, new people are coming on board and we're helping them to evolve as well. Over the last few years, I have started to introduce Coffee, Cake & Kink as a social enterprise, it feels good, and it brings new opportunities with it.

What are your plans going forward?

To reopen. It's hard to put a finger on exactly when that will happen but it will. We've learned a lot and need to put that into practice in our plans. All these years on, we are still getting phone calls from people asking when we're coming back and saying they miss us. One chap makes an annual phone call to catch up with us...he never leaves his number or contact details, but calls religiously once a year, updating us on his personal kinky journey while at it. We also want to continue with our behind-the-scenes work in areas of work skills and diversity programmes, and everything we have learnt since leaving Covent Garden.

Where do you see CCK in 10 years' time?

I'd like to get to the position where CCK is active and recognised for its work and the difference it makes in people's lives. Not just their immediate relationships, as it already does, but their families, their friends, and wider social circles by helping folks be open, and happy with, their quirks and peculiarities and their special ways of life. We hope more people will view their kinks as a positive thing, their particular flavour if you like. Yes, there are some risks involved, and not everything is everyone else's cuppa, but there is freedom and grace in it, and an awful lot of fun.

If we keep on this journey, we are going to see new opportunities emerging to affect social attitudes. I think it's clear we're not just a cafe in Covent Garden any more and I hope we always continue to surprise people and keep developing. Non-kinky people and organisations are starting to take note and listen to us, and with that come opportunities for working on a bigger scale than we have so far.

It would also be nice not to have to bang our head against the wall all the time, not have to explain ourselves and justify our existence quite so much. It would also be good not have the difficulties we are having of finding a premises but to see an opportunity, identify where a CCK is needed, go and speak to several landlords in a town or city or street and hear 'certainly you can have a space - we know the work you do and who you are'.

I am a nest-maker and making people comfortable is what I'm good at, it gives me a purpose in life and I don't envisage myself doing anything except working to make a difference until the day I leave this planet.