See TLC in action

We’re mighty proud of this short film that has been produced, beautifully illustrating the TLC story so far.

Watch the film

About Us

ToastLoveCoffee was the idea borne out of the unlikely friendship of two ladies living in Leeds. They met in December 2012; one, a British born, Jewish middle class mum of three and wife, and the other an Albanian, Christian, single mum of one, recently arrived asylum seeker.

After a year of friendship, they wondered if more people in the city could have the same amazing experience of friendship outside of the usual social circles. That was the initial and core idea of ToastLoveCoffee. The name represents not only their sharing of love for good coffee and food, but, in the heart, the love that is the magic in everything they wanted to create.

This website, originally just a blog, soon followed in January 2014 (all blog entries, from the very beginning are here) and it charts the journey from crazy idea by two ladies who had no idea how to make it happen, to a five day a week cafe operating out of The Ark in Harehills.

In October 2017, TLC moved out of the Ark, and the ToastLoveCoffee team worked really hard on the business plan and securing new premises. The lease for the new site was signed on 5 July 2018, and with a lot of help from the community, TLC reopened for a couple of weeks in December 2018.

From 7 January 2019, TLC opened Monday-Thursdays, 8.45am-3.30pm and since Easter we have added Friday opening too.

Since Easter there has also been The Barr Room available for rental on the first floor, to community groups or for projects that have similar social aims – more details on the Room Hire page.

An Unlikely Friendship

Anita and Anna; Anna and Anita. They describe themselves as ‘sisters by choice’ and their strong friendship, and ToastLoveCoffee itself, is a strong testament to the passion for, and values of life they both share.

Before meeting each other, neither could have imagined the impact on each other they would have; one a Jewish middle class mum in North Leeds, the other a recently arrived asylum seeker, young single mother and with little English.

But something pulled them together at the Christmas party at the temporary hostel Anita was living in, and Anna volunteered at, in December 2012.

Since then, Anna and Anita have walked through life together, holding hands. When Anita’s initial asylum claim was rejected, Anna went with her to the appeal. When Anita and her son were detained, Anna worked tirelessly with others to campaign to get them released. When Anna’s father died, Anita was there for her.

The times they spend together, initially in Anna’s kitchen- sharing recipes, learning new ones together and enjoying the results – and latterly in the ToastLoveCoffee cafe – always contain laughter, sometimes tears, but always coffee. Toast (simple life pleasures created in the kitchen), love and coffee has been a constant theme in their friendship, and was the natural name for the cafe they would found together.

From Humble Beginnings...

For the first six months since having the idea, Anita and Anna met as many people as possible, to discuss, generate ideas, and plan ToastLoveCoffee. Doors soon started to open, in particular The School for Social Entrepreneurs who accepted Anna on the Start Up programme, and two local funders – Leeds Grant Group and Near Neighbours – who gave some seed funding to ensure there was sufficient equipment and resources to open. Through connections, Anna was introduced to the fabulous youth group CATCH and they invited TLC to pop up in their youth centre, a very modest portacabin on a side street in Harehills. The first morning was a beautiful day; the sun was shining and more people than we could have imagined turned out to enjoy the new cafe in the area.

Quickly, TLC grew to a twice weekly coffee morning and regulars began to emerge, as well as volunteers to help run the mornings; a model which is still core to our operation today.

Organically growing, TLC needed a more permanent space, so launched a crowdfunder in September 2015 to raise £10k to join CATCH in their new home on the same site; The Ark.

During this time, TLC and RETAS (a refugee and asylum support charity) partnered up to offer a pop up cafe twice a week at their offices on Roundhay Road. As the deadline drew closer to reach the 10k target, Fever FM, BBC Radio Leeds, and local celebrity baker Howard Middleton all threw their weight in to help the campaign, and as the ten minute countdown began, the target was smashed, and we all celebrated the beginning of the new chapter of ToastLoveCoffee.

Moving into The Ark

Work started on the site in January 2016 and the doors reopened, partnering with CATCH, at The Ark, in September 2016.

Food was being intercepted locally; almost 2 tonnes in the first year – just think about that for a moment – and TLC was able to use this food in the cafe, distribute it locally, or add it to the compost bin if it turned and wasn’t edible any more. All food in the cafe and on the shelves was exchanged on a pay as you feel basis; a model that traditional business models find sceptical but cash donations in the cafe raised close to 50% of the annual income.

February 2017 saw the instillation of a fully functioning kitchen, and TLC extended its opening hours to include lunches. As the volunteer pool grew, so did the days of opening, to five days a week, plus two evenings and a Sunday afternoon.

As a Community Interest Company, TLC runs as any other business, but with the added social value accountability core to its vision. As such, all funding comes from donations; customers in the cafe, and other streams such as the generous fundraising efforts of Leeds-based digital marketing company Engage Interactive, and grants.

TLC is highly regarded locally and beyond, as a safe, welcoming space for anyone who enters, where you can enjoy the company of someone new, over a delicious drink and meal. The pay as you feel model ensures that no one is excluded and everyone can be as generous as they can with their financial contribution to the sustainability and development of this very special cafe in Leeds.

Good Times at The Ark

There have been so many wonderful moments at TLC that it is hard to pick out the highlights; cheesy though it sounds, every time TLC opened, there was a magical moment, a story, an anecdote that liftedup those who witnessed it.

BBC Radio Leeds, particularly the team behind Richard Stead, have been regular supporters of the cafe, and asked to present one of their Christmas roadshow shows, live, from the cafe in 2016. It was a great morning; the cafe was full of regulars and new guests, from across the city, including two ballerinas from Northern Ballet, a local baker, and a student music group who sang their version of Band Aid live for the crowd and radio.

Highlights are also the quieter moments; when we celebrated an asylum seeker’s daughter’s first birthday and the mother told me that she couldn’t have imagined a better day for her daughter that day, and how special it was to be with other people on that day.

There were also the regular magical moments of connection between people who, on the surface, seemed to be worlds apart. The Jew and the Muslim, the asylum seeker and the professional businessman, the young Pakistani boy and the white British elderly lady.

Due to the positive connections with CATCH and the Ark, new groups emerged using the space during the day, and the cafe became part of their story too:

The gardening group who would use the compost that we were creating from the surplus food that had turned before it could be eaten, and then we would use the fresh salad leaves in the salads served in the cafe.

There was also a ‘doodle club’: A table occupied by a local artist and his resources on Wednesday mornings, where he invited people to sit with him and doodle. This was powerful, particularly for an elderly Afghani lady who was always shy due to her lack of English. Always regularly visiting the cafe, she felt truly safe and comfortable around that table with a piece of paper and pencil or colours in her hand.

Due to the amazing efforts of one particular local lady, TLC hosted two special fundraising coffee mornings; one for Macmillan as part of their national campaign, and one as part of The Great Get Together with the Jo Cox Foundation.

Over the summer, particular focus was on the local families in the area, providing a space for the children to access food and healthy meals while school was closed, and Richard McCann got involved in a fundraising motivational speaking one day marathon, ending at the Ark in front of the youth group.

Moving out of the Ark

Partnering with CATCH was hugely effective in establishing the core cafe operation in their community centre in Harehills. Parents from the neighbouring primary school, as well as residents from neighbouring streets, were at the heart of TLC and incredibly supportive, in both volunteering at, and visiting, the cafe.

After just over a year at the Ark, it became clear that both TLC and CATCH needed their own spaces to both do the remarkable work they are both doing. CATCH’s increase in participation from young people in the area meant that there was a demand for CATCH to run their own cafe meeting the needs of their members.

For TLC, it was time to stand on our own two feet and establish as an independent high street cafe with a big heart.

In October 2017, TLC moved out of the Ark, and the core team worked hard to create the next chapter of the TLC story.

On 5 July 2018, the lease was signed for a five year lease on 13 Harehills Road, and the story continues.