Carol Emmas interviews Lucy McLachlan, cafe manager at The Brink on Parr Street
“Working here definitely makes you more aware of how much an alcohol-heavy scene the city is,” says Lucy McLachlan, cafe manager at Liverpool’s original dry bar, The Brink.
We are trying to be the cheapest in our area, especially with our coffees - but it is really difficult when costs are rising.
Picking up discarded beer bottles outside is all in a day’s work for Lucy; it helps minimise triggers for visitors who are recovering from addictions and want to come into a safe space for a bite to eat, a coffee or to access The Brink’s therapeutic services.
“Being situated on Parr Street definitely presents challenges with the area being really popular with the drinking community,” says Lucy.
“On the other hand, visitors also like that The Brink is situated here because it means they can be in an alcohol-free and safe space and at the same time feel like they're part of the city centre atmosphere.
“Like when we opened for the Champions League finals back in May. As an event, it was a real success. It means the recovery community has a place to go and watch the match that doesn’t involve pubs.”
It’s a positive note from a shaky start after COVID-19. Financial constraints meant that The Brink was unable to reopen alongside other hospitality businesses when restrictions were lifted. Established in 2011 and previously run by Action on Addiction, The Brink reopened this year under the auspices of the national charity, Forward Trust.
“The good news is, they have a lease here for 10 years,” says Lucy. “Also, we don't have to apply for funding - they sort that out for us,” she adds.
In terms of business-as-usual, The Brink has been more measured in its approach. It might have had a new chilled-out vibe refurb, but its not-for-profit team is also aware of maintaining what has been a previously successful tried and tested formula. The cafe is now up and running daily from 10am to 3pm, overseen by chef Alice Lilley.
“It’s been great, we’ve had so many compliments about the food,” says Lucy. “We’ve tried to keep to what was successful before the pandemic.
"The Brink was always known for good afternoon tea, breakfasts and roast dinners. We did afternoon tea a few weeks ago and everything - sandwiches, cakes and scones - were all homemade and it looked great.”
Sunday roasts are the next idea on the menu, but like many cafes, The Brink is struggling with inflationary costs. Lucy, who has worked in the hospitality industry for 15 years, says it’s not as simple as deciding to pass those costs on.
“Maintaining quality food and drink is what we want to do, but it’s a real balancing act. We are trying to be the cheapest in our area, especially with our coffees - but it is really difficult when costs are rising and the independents around us have suddenly become expensive.
“We’re trying to avoid putting up our prices, as we have a lot of people in recovery who don't have as much money to spend.”
Lucy adds, "With food, we offer a cheaper option, then a more expensive one so that we can be available to everyone. We’re trying to deliver products that are fresh, healthy and high quality but for a lower price, which obviously in this current climate is quite hard.”
The event for the Champions League final was a success but organising evening events has been slower to get going.
Lucy says, “We’re looking towards collaborating with people to put back on open mic nights and film nights etc. A craft group and gardening group for the outside area is also on the list of things to organise. But during and after COVID people went their separate ways and we lost a lot of contacts. So it’s like starting from scratch again.”
Many of The Brink’s staff and volunteers are in recovery. The Brink is the first step and referral safe space for those wanting to address their addictions. The second step is Sharp Liverpool (Self-Help Addiction Recovery Programme) which is based on Rodney Street and is also part of the Forward Trust next step recovery service. Once people have graduated from both, they can do training courses to volunteer at The Brink.
Lucy says, “We have a group of about 10 volunteers currently. They can get involved with the recovery groups, or they can be hosts bringing people in and welcoming people.
“Plus, they can help behind the cafe bar, or in the kitchen to learn kitchen skills. It means we can make sure they’re ready to work again and even offer them jobs - which is great. But it takes time to get all that back up and running again.”
The Brink is one of Parr Street’s success stories. Up the road, The Attic Bar has closed down and Parr Street Studios is set to be demolished to make way for apartments. The £3m eight-storey 257-room Molo Hotel that has been thrown up directly opposite on Duke Street overshadows everything in its wake.
Lucy is hoping that will be a positive. “I thought at first the hotel might block out all the light, but it’s been fine,” she says.
“When it opens we are hoping it’ll bring people across for breakfast. We have a lot of people wandering in off the street and I know from having worked in hotels previously people are always looking for a cheaper breakfast, so that can only be good.”
I mentally applaud Lucy’s positivity and walk out of The Brink to face the new monolithic mass. Call me old-fashioned, but I liked Parr Street just the way it was pre-COVID. I don’t like the advances of uninspiring, faceless corporate blocks that stamp all over the city’s creative individuality. I’m glad that some things have remained the same, but still have a silent weep of nostalgia for the heady days of the Parr Street scene, a decade or so ago.
Follow Carol Emmas on Twitter: @carolemmas
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