Anne Fairbrother moved to South London over 20 years ago and hasn’t looked back since. Having been made redundant a shop come restaurant, Cornercopia, was born out of curiosity and ambition to seize an opportunity to create jobs for both herself, her partner and other local people. Read on to find out more about Cornercopia, one of the original ventures as part of the spacemakers project to transform Brixton Village, and its owner Anne.
1. Did you grow up or end up in South London?
I grew up in Hull – curiously to become a city of Culture in 2017. I’ve lived in Brixton for more than 20 years now, in fact I’ve lived in the same house just off Brixton Hill and it really feels like I’m here to stay.
2. What brought you/kept you there?
A summers volunteering on a community arts project in the Docklands brought me to London after college. It turned into a full time job, initiating new community projects and training project co-ordinators. Several people I knew from Hull had gravitated toward Brixton and it just felt right. I’ve always loved the energy, interesting mix of people and the large number of do-ers – people who put values or ideas into action.
3.Before launching Cornercopia you had a career in Digital Media working for, amongst others, the BBC. What led you to open Cornercopia? and what was the time-scale like from the initial idea to opening?
For some time I was a BBC Imagineer, working in an ideas lab in the basement – coming up with ideas for future services using emerging technologies, I loved working there, but the department moved up North and I wanted to stay here.
When I heard about the Spacemakers empty shops project I’d been made redundant from another design job – out of curiosity I went along to the launch event to hear about the project and got very excited by the idea of what a group of people might do together to bring new life to a market in serious decline. I got thinking about what I could do with an empty shop, an idea began to crystallise around local food and I saw an opportunity to create new jobs, for me, my partner (who is a chef) and other local people. The challenge was how to start a food project in a place without a cooker, fridge or even hot water. That’s where the idea of jams, chutneys and preserves came in. They could be made off premises, by us or other local people and were perfect for Christmas which was just round the corner.
There was actually only a week to come up with a proposal and then two weeks to bring it all to life. We worked all day long renovating the shop and then made chutney quite literally through the night. A lot of friends pitched in to help and there was a great spirit of collaboration amongst the other people involved. A week before Christmas we opened the doors to our little Corner-shop and sold the first Brixton-made Christmas hampers.
4.What’s been your proudest moment since launching Cornercopia?
Winning the Lambeth best green business award in 2011
5. All your products are sourced locally, have you found it increasingly easier to find good local produce?
There are lots of amazing people growing things and making things, but some products are quite seasonal and made in tiny quantities and not every product idea survives, so we are always on the look out for new makers. It’s exciting trying new things. This weekend someone is bringing some Dandelion jelly and Sea Buckthorn drink for us to try.
6.Has the explosion of Brixton Village been a benefit?
The speed of change in Brixton village has been incredible, I think way beyond what any of us imagined at the start. It brings with it many, many positive aspects, but there are negative implications too. And although the market is incredibly busy on summer weekends and in the evenings, it is almost empty on a cold November week day. I think many people would be surprised just how little business there is during the week and how fragile it still is. Something like 95% of all money spent on food in Brixton goes to the big two supermarkets.
7. You seem to have moved from the traditional three course restaurant menu to more of a tapas style sharing menu, what led to this development?
This year we noticed that more and more people ordered food to share and few wanted the traditional three courses, especially in the summer. We also get quite a lot of groups coming for birthdays and the small plates menu lets people try a lot of things from the menu. It’s a way of eating I like too, whether it’s in places like Polpo, Spain or at an Indian.
8. Finally tell us about the Christmas hampers you’ll be selling this year?
The Christmas hampers were where it all started and they are very popular at Christmas, so much so that every year so far we have run out of many things. This year we have taken the decision to close the restaurant from 1st December when bookings get very low due to the cold, this means we can make loads more Christmas goodies. We will have Christmas puddings made with local ale, pears in red wine, Chocolate panforte, Christmas piccalilli and our sought after hand raised pork pies with cider jelly. You can come along to the deli and make up a Christmas hamper with anything form the shop – from Brixton Beer to Neal’s Yard Cheeses and Brixton Market Chutney. On Thursday nights during December and at weekends we will have a DIY hamper making stall set up with mulled wine to warm us all! Our other exciting news is that you can now buy our hampers online from Cornercopia.co.uk and get them delivered anywhere in the UK. There are five rather special limited edition hampers on offer. One of them has got one of a few chunks of Brixton honeycomb only available through us or Fortnum & Mason! We had an enquiry form Edinburgh the other day, it’s really exciting to think our Brixton Village Piccalilli might end up accompanying pork pies in Scotland!