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April 03

Ziferblat London

By Ella Miista
This Tuesday had a slightly different start to it. Rather than coming to the office, I got on the bus from Hackney to Old Street where I met the lovely Alice. Together we made our way to a place called Ziferblat. Ziferblat is kinda like a concept or an experience as much as it is a place. I mean, yes, of course it has a location, but it’s the idea behind it that makes it stand out. Think of it as a shared space. It all first started in Russia. A lil group of poetry lovers was longing after their own space where they could spend time with likeminded individuals doing things they loved. You know, without anyone staring at them and wondering whatever they might be up to. They found a little attic on a quiet street in the centre of Moscow and their initial hangout spot, the Tree House, was born. They’d hung out doing whatever made them the happiest – there was coffee, there was cake, and the payment for it was voluntary. While the Ziferblat HQ still resides at the legendary spot, it soon grew too tiny for the number of people interested. Across the street, they discovered a new place to rent and that’s when the first official Ziferblat was born. This meant it was time to officially start charging the people visiting to keep the place afloat. What started as a joke is now their business model – they charge people for their time. When you enter Ziferblat, you clock in. They give you a piece of paper, you note down when you entered and when you leave, you clock out and pay for the time you spent there. It’s kinda like becoming a micro-tenant. While you’re there, you’re free to make yourself at home. You can drink tea or make yourself coffee. You can work on your laptop or read a book – they have many on the shelves! You can even play the piano that stands by the wall. The choice is yours. It’s now grown into a bit of a franchise. They now have spaces in Russia and Ukraine, and of course London. Ivan – the man behind it all – is currently working on opening another one in New York. All these places are run by people who’ve approached Ivan wanting to create a similar space to the original Tree House in Moscow. No need to be put off by the sound of a franchise though! Its purpose is still to please the community rather than collect the £££. I had previously spoken to Sophie over the email who said weekday mornings are normally the quietest. We weren’t too surprised to find the place empty – except for Sasha who works for Ziferblat part time. He told us the staff all works part time basis - most of them are artists and performers, so working there is a good in-between gig. Because it has such a community feel to it, it’s much more rewarding than a gig in a cafe where people get their latte and run off again. Sasha assures us people are all friendly and nice because we were a bit suspicions to people voluntarily coming together in a space where they had to interact with one another. Like, maybe in Russia, but in London the appropriate etiquette is to stare at your feet and avoid eye connection at all costs. Ziferblat is changing that. While many come there to do work and keep to themselves, it’s difficult to avoid each other when making coffee in the kitchen. Laughing, Sasha says it’d just be awkward to do that so instead conversations happen. They often carry on outside the kitchen, too. He also says in the evenings and over the weekends they hold events at Ziferblat. Sometimes they have a film night, sometimes they do clothes swaps. In every way it’s about bringing people together and the people that come want to take care of that space. By ‘renting’ the space and handling their own caffeine needs, they feel in charge and responsible – like they’re a part of it. Ziferblat is first and foremost a social experiment. I’ve been so tempted to use the word ‘cafe’ to describe it but it’s not the correct term. In fact, when the media first picked up on Ziferblad, calling it a cafe got them in trouble. The space they are renting is meant to be an office and to use it as a cafe would be unlawful. This resulted in some major pain with their landlord. Though Sasha said the council paid them a visit and confirmed nothing is wrong, they are currently waiting for the landlord’s final decision. This also meant they had to remove their posters from their door downstairs. At the moment it’s just another blue door the corner of Old Street and Shoreditch High Street – with a little touch from a lonely vintage clock on the windowsill. The vibe at Ziferblat is entirely positive despite this. All the media coverage they received means tourists come looking for this strange conceptual space. Locals have embraced it. Though Sasha says it’s not exactly a service orientated place, we’re pretty certain it just applies to the coffees. They definitely go out of their way to create a warm and welcoming environment where people don’t feel the need to gaze at their shoes. The short time Alice and I spent there, we learnt so much both about Ziferblat and Sasha himself – it’s not the kinda thing you’d get at Costa. At five pence a minute it won’t likely drain our funds and so we can all see an afternoon or two spent there in the future. Join us or go there on your own - you can find Ziferblat's official website here. All photos by Alice Zielasko. DSC_0730 DSC_0735 DSC_0738 DSC_0739 DSC_0749 DSC_0757 DSC_0762 DSC_0767 DSC_0770 DSC_0774 DSC_0796 DSC_0799 DSC_0803 DSC_0810 DSC_0815 DSC_0828 DSC_0833
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