Sustain London Food Link Articles

Roots to Work: The Community Creator

Amongst many other things, Urban Food Award winner Jacqui Shimidzu runs the Hill Station — a community café, shop and exhibition space that has become an outlet for community change and creativity.

Jacqui Shimidzu, photo by Miles Willis

Jacqui Shimidzu, photo by Miles Willis

Where did your love of good food come from?

I grew up in care, which for the most part was extremely grim. There was an Italian woman named Freda who worked there and occasionally she would cook for us. It was just wonderful — so different to the re-hydrated catering packets we usually ate. One time, she took me to her house where I met her family and made pasta. I remember the noodles drying in the kitchen — I had never seen anything like it before. It set off an electrical spark in my brain.

Tell us about a memorable moment that has shaped your career

As I mentioned, I was in care for most of my childhood, but our Dad took us home on weekends. When we were leaving there was often a child staring out the window and, if they weren’t being picked up by anyone, my Dad would take them home with us. He taught us that no matter what, there is always someone worse off and, if you’re able, it’s your duty to hold out a hand to help.

Food was big in our house too. My Dad cooked basic food but it was the occasion that made it special. He would often invite all the kids in the street for Sunday tea — about 25 of us squeezed into our tiny front room munching on tinned salmon sandwiches and Wagon Wheels washed down with Bilco Cherry Pop. Dad was always looking out for that kid that might be having a tough time of it. Food was his remedy.

What led you to set up Hill Station?

I realised my love of food and my love of community were so perfectly paired. My friend Jude (Lene Lovitch band who incidentally have played a benefit gig for us at the café) once said to me if you have a space people can find you. So I found a space and people found Hill Station. Now ideas bubble up from the community who come together over good food — an essential part of Hill Station.

Coming back to the present, what’s a typical day for you, or is there one?

There really isn’t one. One day I might be behind the counter serving coffee, on another I could be talking to students from the School for Social Entrepreneurs or organising a Silent Disco. But the favourite part of my day is seeing people working in the café maybe for the first time in their lives — seeing them do their job well and go from strength to strength.

What keeps you motivated?

The social impact of the business and the difference it can make in people’s lives. For example, we are able to offer full-time work to two members of staff who have Autism. One of these people had previously volunteered at a café, where nobody spoke to them and they never got off the washing up. When they told their parents they had the job offer with us, we both had tears in our eyes. We recently discovered they are really good at baking and the parents just couldn’t believe it — seeing their child serve people, while eating cake they had baked, all with no supervision. The parents were so proud, and so am I.

And lastly, what’s your guilty food pleasure that we probably shouldn’t be printing?

Eating a snickers and a bag of cheese and onion crisps at the same time.

Published Thursday 11 June 2020

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