The Living Under One Sun cafe, garden and community hub is Tottenham Hale's heart of gold
It only happens very rarely, but every now and then you meet a group of people who really, truly inspire you. The small, but big-hearted team behind Living Under One Sun, a local charity and community hub in Tottenham Hale, are each inspiring in their own way – though we suspect they’d all blush at the thought of this.
Living Under One Sun came to be in 2005 when several mothers in the community banded together with the ambition to create a safe neighbourhood through positive engagement and social outreach. In 2018, one of the charity’s co-founders, Leyla Laksari, beat the odds to take ownership of a dilapidated pavilion and bowling green nestled in Down Lane Park, fending off 26 other applicants in the process. With a loyal band of volunteers, including Leyla’s co-workers Patou, Julie and Mark, LUOS has transformed the space into a café, garden and social hub that feels like a home-grown Garden of Eden, just a few minutes walk from The Gessner.
“Community activism is so often overlooked and misunderstood,” says Leyla, when we meet her in the garden on a crisp, sunny winter morning. Leyla is petite, with short hair and beaming smile that belies a huge personality within. She greets you by reaching out and squeezing both your hands as though you’ve been her life-long friend, it’s a trait that can’t help but make you smile. “Empowering your local community is about working towards a more equal society,” she continues, “helping those who need us most. To us here at Living Under One Sun, community is about trust and respect for one another.”
True to this vision, Living Under One Sun is a welcoming and supportive space for anyone in the neighbourhood to draw on. Pay a visit on any given day you can expect to find something to dip into; from arts and crafts workshops, to cycling school and bike repair classes, yoga sessions, organic food growing and beekeeping, running and walking clubs, dance groups, wheelchair basketball – the list goes on. LUOS also runs financial literacy drop-in sessions, lessons on home energy and income maximisation, and English language workshops, all of which offer significant practical support to Haringey residents.
Leyla even hosts what she calls a ‘human library’ where people gather to tell personal stories in an open forum, almost like a support group or coffee morning. There’s a stage in the garden, too, which Living Under One Sun uses to host live performances and community parties. Alongside all this, Leyla and her team also work tirelessly to support those in the community who are below the poverty line, vulnerable women and migrant or refugee families who are struggling to adjust to life in the UK.
“There’s one thing I’ve learned; we’re all migrants or refugees in some way,” Leyla says as we walk through the garden, taking in the packed beds of vegetables and banks of sunflowers. “Our roots always trace back to somewhere completely unexpected. Everyone I’ve met in all the places I’ve lived has a story to tell, and they deserve to be treated with empathy.”
As with any grass-roots project like this, there is always more to do and more that needs funding; the team relies entirely on donations and the community’s goodwill to keeping Living Under One Sun moving. Even builders from the neighbouring construction site have been taking time out to erect new garden rooms and build the al fresco kitchen area. As funding trickles in, LUOS’s core team want to run more workshops, expand the space’s garden stage to host more gatherings, find a way to increase staffing so the café can be open every day and resource more support programmes for locals, too.
Beyond contributions, Leyla and her volunteers also need people to donate their time to help grow the vision for Living Under One Sun. “The main thing we need is new skills,” she says, “I don’t have an accountant, I don’t have any social media support, I don’t have anyone to help teach people how to use computers. We do a lot of digital poverty work. Last year, we raised £37,500 and got 61 laptops to donate to the community. Almost 40 of them came back because people didn’t know how to use them.”
At the tail-end of our visit, an officer from Haringey Council arrives, a calm figure in a smart suit who likewise seems a firm Living Under One Sun admirer. Leyla explains that she’ll have to disappear at this point to speak with him about an up-coming project (the garden is soon to be used by the Council for community consultation sessions) but she dispenses one final piece of wisdom before she departs.
“Community development is the only politics I know that works,” she says, taking our hands again to say goodbye. “If you give a neighbourhood the tools to thrive it will create everything it needs. We just need to remember that we are all equal under one sun.”