In December 2013 we held several meetings in the Thorncliffe Park community with folks who had participated in our Story and Creativity Circle programs over the previous 18 months. We explored their ideas for community, group and individual projects, designed to address local cultural, social and economic opportunities. We ended up with a wall full of excellent ideas, and the one that seems to have the most traction was what they called a “Women’s Cultural Café”. At the same meeting the idea of a group to implement this and other projects got it start, with the name Thorncliffe Action Group (TAG). It took two years for this impulse to take form, and in September 2015 the members of TAG presented their first TAG Café as part of Diasporic Genius Harvest Festival. It was a great success both because of the accomplishment of getting something unprecedented (for them) off the ground and because of their nascent collaboration with DG’s partners at ERA Architects, who came on board to explore how “built space” interventions could support such a project.
This year TAG grew from a one-off project to embrace a deeper development process. The goals were: to present the Cultural Café at multiple events, developing a menu rooted in the culture of “Back Home”; present their creations to a cross-cultural audience; to learn about the first-step elements of a food preparation and a “street sales” social enterprise. This led to to 6 events featuring the TAG Cultural Café and with a much more robust contribution/collaboration with folks from ERA. Yael Santopinto and Rui Felix, assisted by Ron Noble, and with ongoing input from TAG members, designed and built a cart for the TAG Cultural Café. This beautiful creation gave a centre of gravity to the enterprise, and helped set the tone for the quality of everything that was presented.
Core TAG members Naheed Zia (the group’s co-ordinator), Nighat Arshad, Sidra Arshad, Najma Shakeel, Bisques Bano, and (until she started full-time school) Nazmun Nahar, along with a group of volunteers and supporters, designed and tested a menu of warm and cold food and drinks, shopped for and prepared these offerings, and sold their wares with great success at several different venues in the Thorncliffe Park community. The dishes they created and sold were their personal variations on traditional Pakistani and Bengali foods, and it consistently received the best reviews possible: they sold out their inventory every time!
As to what the experience brought them, TAG members universally reported “greatly increased confidence”, “much better understanding of what goes into a business”, “real pleasure in working together”, “making new friends”, “greatly increased sense of possibility for their future”, They were very pleased by the opportunity to collaborate with Yael, Rui and Ron from ERA Architects and felt “huge pride” in their cart, recognizing that its simple beauty created a focus for their food, communicating quality and care in its design and creation. Naheed Zia, who has been a participant with DG for the last 4 years, stepped forward this year as TAG Co-ordinator. She reported that this was “an incredible learning experience”, that exposed her “to many things she had never done before.” She experienced a “deep satisfaction” in meeting the multiple challenges of the position. The circumstances definitely required her to meet unexpected situations, and she managed beautifully, rising to the occasion with dedication and aplomb.
TAG’s project had a wider impact as well: their example, in the context of DG’s creativity-based community events, sparked a new approach to presentation by the Thorncliffe Neighbourhood Office-led Women’s Business Initiative (see section on Markets and Festivals).
In 2017, TAG will have much on their plate: returning with regular pop-up Cultural Cafés, in Thorncliffe Park and in the wider city; growing their numbers, with a focus on youth participants; expanding their menu including collaboration with a professional chef to develop new & unique offerings; and increased mentorship in business fundamentals