Peter Calder: Rediscovering the greater good

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60s-sounding collective looking at ways for community to make connections, with no profit motive in sight.

The collective members from left, starting with the guy with the shades hanging off his T shirt are Blue Bradley; Gemma Taylor; Grace Allen; Nigel Cottle; Katey Bradley; Brad Mills; Sam Davey.
The collective members from left, starting with the guy with the shades hanging off his T shirt are Blue Bradley; Gemma Taylor; Grace Allen; Nigel Cottle; Katey Bradley; Brad Mills; Sam Davey.

They served paella at Crave Cafe on Saturday evening. For 400. For free. As a business model, it doesn't exactly have "certain to succeed" written all over it.

But Crave is no ordinary business. It's not really a business at all, but a collective.

Maybe you don't remember the 60s because you weren't around. Maybe you enjoyed them too much to remember anything. If so, you may wonder what a collective is. Modern life having prized ruthless individuality above the greater good for a generation now, the word sounds a little quaint.

But the 15-strong Crave Collective are seeking to reinvent the term - and the practice.

"A few of us got together (over food and wine)," they explain on their website, "and decided we wanted to be good neighbours and live in/create a great neighbourhood ...

One of the basic cravings of humanity is to connect with each other."

If there was any craving - for either connection or kai - it was well satisfied at the paella afternoon on Saturday outside the cafe, which is in Morningside Drive, a block away from New North Rd. With little fanfare and virtually no advertising - the 400 who turned up were alerted mainly by word of mouth - they created a cross between a street party and a flash mob. It was a faintly surreal sight, a splash of energy and colour and joy among the locked and shuttered grim concrete factories that dominate the neighbourhood.

Paella is a Spanish dish made principally of a rice not unlike the one used in Italian risotto, livened with saffron and tomato. The main concoction on Saturday glistened, irresistibly red, in a dish 1.3m in diameter, which contained enough for 200. It was studded with chicken drumsticks, cubes of roasted pork belly and thick discs of spicy chorizo. A smaller pan had a seafood version. A third catered for vegetarians.

The free feed was intended as one of two bookends to summer and the weather was uncharacteristically obliging. The sun smiled on the hundreds who milled about, enthusing about the existence of such an event and remarking ruefully that it was not something you saw much of any more in the country's biggest city.

Over fair-trade coffee on Monday morning, collective members Nigel Cottle and Blue Bradley explained that the event - and indeed the five-year-old collective - existed to break down isolation and create connections between people.

"Blue and me have got youth-worker backgrounds," said Cottle. "We're Christians, and there's a sense for us of what it might look like to live out our faith. We wanted to make the neighbourhood a better place to live. We all live in the neighbourhood and the idea is that if it's better, it's better for us. So there is a bit of altruism but there is self-interest, too."

Action comes before words for these young people, so there's no call to prayer involved.

"We try to keep church language out of it because it gets in the way. People have their assumptions and history and that's not us."

Adds Bradley: "Whatever people in the neighbourhood believe in, wherever they've come from, we want to give them space to voice and express that."

In a short conversation with these two, the word "neighbourhood" occurs more often than any other. They're not seeking to have all of Auckland beat a path to their door - though you won't be turned away.

"We're trying to be hyperlocal," says Cottle, "but I like the idea that other people might pick up the idea and say 'Yeah, I could do that in my neighbourhood'."

He points over his shoulder in the direction of a nearby building that has 86 apartments - and no shared spaces.

"There's nowhere to meet but in hallways. People don't stop and talk in hallways."

The collective's mission statement says all its profits "go towards destroying poverty of any kind", but they're not in the business of writing big cheques; profit margins aren't that big in the hospitality industry.

That doesn't preclude financial support - "We wouldn't support the Paralympic team, for example," says Cottle, "but if there was a local Paralympian, we'll support them because it's local" - but of greater interest is what they call the social poverty that bedevils all neighbourhoods.

"It's very densely populated in this neighbourhood, but people don't connect," says Bradley. "People don't bring muffins over when you move in. But if you come in here, you feel like a local. You feel like you belong."

On the internet: www.cafecrave.co.nz

- NZ Herald

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