“Ziferblat is the first place where everything you see if free except the time you spend there. You can work, make art, drink coffee, play the piano, attend events and get acquainted with good people”. Ziferblat website
Last night the 2016 Café Life Awards took place in London, an awards ceremony which aims to recognise excellence and innovation in the UK café/coffee bar industry. This year’s winner of the Independent Café/Coffee Bar* of the Year category from a selected shortlist** was Ziferblat Edge Street in Manchester, which also received a new special Innovation Award for their interesting café concept. Since beginning the ‘Spaces of Community’ research project Ziferblat has been one the most innovative I have come across in terms of how it operates, but also how it goes about fostering activities and its integration in the local community.
Ziferblat is not your usual café, one where you don’t pay for the goods you consume like a normal café but the time you spend there. This concept has proved very popular with Ziferblat UK expanding to four branches (Old Street, London; Edge Street, Manchester; Albert Dock and St Paul’s Square, Liverpool). The concept originated from Russia after a group of like-minded poetry enthusiasts began to rent out a place to meet up so they didn’t have to keep changing venues to meet or have the pressure to buy food or drink each time. The idea developed into a permanent Ziferblat branch in 2011 where people could visit, meet up and do all manner of activities – they used the space how they wanted to, not just as a place to get coffee. And instead of paying for goods like you would in a usual café, you paid for the time you spend there. The idea was popular and soon additional franchised branches opened up across Europe (Moscow, St. Petersburg, Kiev, Prague, Ljubljana are a few examples).
“ Ziferblat is a free space for interaction where anyone is welcome, regardless of social status, nationality, age, etc.” Ziferblat website
The Ziferblat website suggests that the branch in Manchester is currently the largest in the world. It has a large kitchen are where you can help yourself to tea, coffee, and food which changes frequently; and you can also make use of kitchen facilities (as long as you make sure you wash up afterwards). Then there is a huge area with various tables, chairs, sofas and other furniture which do create a homely feel to the place. When I visited there were all different kinds of groups of people there, from a young family playing a board game, to people having a business meeting and students studying together. There’s always a packed events schedule to be found too including yoga sessions, knitterblatters, or freelancers events which encourage those who work remotely to get together. They also have a series of meeting rooms which can be booked for meetings, conferences, or other more social activities.
Ziferblat is far more than just a café (although it does have excellent coffee too – from a café and roaster in Liverpool – 92o coffee), it provides a safe social space, it acts as a cultural centre, a place for entertainment, a place to co-work, a place for communities to develop. For my research it epitomizes what I was thinking of when I started to write about cafés as ‘Spaces of Community’ and I look forward to seeing how the business develops in the future.
* An independent café in defined in these circumstances as a café business with fewer than 10 outlets.
**(Café 1505, Edinburgh; Chandos Deli, Bath; The Crossing Point Café, Kirkby Lonsdale; Mimi’s Bakehouse, Edinburgh; Mimosa Kennington, London; No 67 Café, London; Timberyard Soho, London)