A COUP has occurred at the workers’ co-operative Pogo at 76 Clarence Road, 80m west of Clapton Square. The spark was a row at the strictly vegan co-operative café over, of all things, meat.
Animal-rights activists have taken control of the venue, say members of the displaced faction. The origins of the coup lie in a freezers breakdown at a nearby supermarket.
Somerfield wanted to dispose of the contents so co-op members and local squatters salvaged frozen vegetables, as well as non-vegan dairy products and meat.
Pogo members labelled the reclaimed food as not for café use and placed it in a freezer in the storeroom, which is out of sight of the dining area.
This was a temporary arrangement, partly a favour to local people, some of whom did not own freezers. The food was not intended for the café, and specifically marked so. A volunteer objected to there being meat on the premises. Several secret meetings, to which co-op members say they were not invited, were held away from the café.
One night a group of people let themselves into the café and threw away all the non-vegan produce from the freezer and pasted it with animal-rights literature and a note warning that “freeganism”, a way of highlighting how supermarkets waste food by needlessly dumping it, was a slippery slope to something or other.
The note also complained that not everyone had been properly consulted. The insurgency continued as one of the rebels used the email account via which Pogo keeps in touch with volunteers to call a meeting at the same time as one planned by core members.
A confrontation occurred, at which the co-op was told it was “cliquey” and that the 15 or so objectors wanted more responsibility. A counter-accusation was that they had never mentioned this. In any case, said the “original”, co-opistas, there was no shortage of the responsibilities usually available in a retail operation, such as cleaning, baking and errands.
The “original” added: “They also implied we weren’t vegan enough to run a vegan café. The result was that all the the originals and some long-term volunteers resigned. A member said: “We don’t want to work with people who want power, or think that we do. Being in the co-op is being in a position of responsibility, which is not necessarily fun. The implication that only vegans who are practising animal-rights activism should be allowed to run the café is very exclusive and alienating.”
The café will now be run by a different group. “We aren’t happy about leaving the café,” said an original, “but we feel they left us no option.”
The co-op started life as Pumpkin. Later the name was changed to Pogo. The area is one of the roughest in London: feral youths from the adjacent Pembury estate occasionally fling themselves at the security grilles enclosing the premises and an anti-gun meeting at the in December 2008 ended in two shootings.
But its popularity has grown, particularly with students on small budgets. It won a contract to supply cakes to the Rio cinema and in the last few years it has broadened its activities, among them free classes in German and other languages. Recently it announced free yoga courses.