Tutu Melaku spoke about how her café has become a focal point for the community.
In just 12 months Tutu Melaku has transformed a derelict building in Reading into a community hub.
Offering more than just tea and coffee she opened the doors of Palmer Park Lodge to people in East Reading and beyond, providing a friendly face for those who live alone and a meeting place for dozens of groups and families.
This weekend she is inviting everyone down to celebrate the first anniversary of Tutu’s Ethiopian Table at Palmer Park Lodge.
Tutu, whose Ethiopian Table was previously based at Reading International Solidarity Centre in London Street, shared what it’s like running the café and how it has become a hub for the community in Reading, Berkshire.
She said: “Palmer Park is such an amazing place to be based, it’s been exciting to be there through the seasons, and see the weather and the trees change – and there are always people: runners, footballers, dog walkers, students, retired, parents with children, especially those using the play areas, our toilets are very popular!.
“Local people, and those from out of town, old and young: we welcome you all!
“We really feel the café has had a positive impact too.
“The crime is lower, a lot of people coming here say that the drugs issue was bad, now they say the drugs have reduced because of the café, so there’s lots of of positive things about it.
“More families feel they can come to the park, knowing there is a friendly and cosy café and toilets and refreshments to hand.
“When one of my customers, a 75-year-old man, wakes up he knows he can have a coffee and a chat whenever we’re open.
“In the evenings too the park is growing as a community hub, not just for sport but for music, food and socialising too.
“We are so grateful to all who have supported and encouraged us on this journey, I feel like we are the hub of a huge East Reading family and beyond.”
The café has become a popular place for community events and parties.
Ms Melaku said: “We quickly found there is a good demand for special bookings for parties, and as a venue for local groups: we now support a whole range of gatherings who meet regularly at the café: amongst others we host a weekly Parkrun coffee social, a board games evening, a mental health art therapy support group for 18-25 year olds, a knitting group, a bereavement support group, my own ‘Tutu’s Happy Feet’ weekly running group.
“We also have our lively regular events: a popular monthly Tuesday music night, where local musicians come together and take the opportunity to perform together, often around our café piano.
“We’ve recently started a regular quiz night, which is taking off fast. We’ve had dance evenings and cultural events.”
She will be welcoming musician Duke Special to the café at 7.30pm on Friday, March 20. And she will be holding a regular community coffee morning that will begin on Tuesday, April 7.
Reflecting on her first year at the park, she said: “Wow, what a year! In March 2019 we first opened the doors to Tutu’s Ethiopian Table at Palmer Park Lodge after some intensive weeks of transforming the derelict, neglected site: removing the rubble and dirt and scrubbing it clean, equipping it, and filling it with colour, character, energy and life.
“In the weeks after our opening celebration, we were glad to welcome many customers, coming to enjoy a coffee, lunch, or full Ethiopian cuisine in the evening.
“We offer delicious afternoon tea for special occasions, and cater for birthdays, hen parties, work dos, Sunday lunches and family celebrations.”
Ms Melaku started her Ethiopian Table at RISC in October 2006, she catered both at Palmer Park and RISC in April last year, before entirely moving the business to Palmer Park
Join the celebrations
Join Tutu to celebrate the anniversary of the café at Palmer Park in Reading, Berkshire, on Sunday, March 8, the event will run from 2pm until closing.
The café is open from 11am to 9pm from Tuesday to Friday, 9am to 9pm on Saturday and 9am to 5pm on Sunday.
It is closed on Mondays.
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