Many people find death hard to talk about, but London may soon offer a solution.
It seems the perfect investment for anybody with a taste for the morbid — and, perhaps, cake. For £50, you can now buy shares in the world’s first permanent “death café”.
The premise is simple: come for your daily latte and croissant, stay to discuss subjects such as recent bereavement, assisted suicide, burial or cremation with the café’s staff and customers and, in the process, peel away the taboos that surround the subject.
The plan for a permanent café is a key step forward for a movement that has led to 2,000 pop-ups springing up across 32 countries. Even the Church of England is interested in the idea. Lord Williams of Oystermouth, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, said that such a movement should lead the clergy to question why people are heading to such outlets rather than the Church.
“The Church needs to ask itself whether it still provides a credible place for these things to be opened up honestly,” Lord Williams said. “Are we serious enough? This development is certainly another aspect of the democratising of spirituality, people devising ways of handling profound issues of meaning.”
The £50 shares are being sold in a crowdfunding campaign that it is hoped will raise the £350,000 needed for a permanent café in London, a city where the rents are high but where the organisers believe the numbers are on their side.
“We think there are enough people in London who want to engage with death at any one time to make this work,” Jon Underwood, the founder of the death café movement, said.
Inspired by the work of Bernard Crettaz, who established similar cafés in France and Switzerland, Mr Underwood, a former council worker, created his first temporary death café in Hackney, north London, in 2011.
He said that the aim of the café would be simply to make people feel relaxed about discussing death. And it will not be coffins that are integral to Mr Underwood’s business model, but cake. He argues that while many people have a superstitious fear that talking about death makes it more likely to happen, eating and drinking helps people to feel alive. “Cake helps to mitigate fear by marking us as amongst the community of the living,” he said.
The café will be run as a non-profit venue, managed and supported by those who buy shares in the venture. Just over £20,000 has been raised through crowdfunding so far. There was even a recent death café at the Bestival music festival on the Isle of Wight, organised by Louise de Winter, 28, a funeral planner who has run pop-up death cafés in London and New York.
“I think it’s very important that things like death cafés exist, so the public perception of death can change and more people become willing to embrace death as part of life,” she said. She described hosting one café session at which a man in his fifties sat quietly through most of the two hours before telling the crowd that he had terminal cancer. “It took everyone back and suddenly what we were talking about took on a deeper meaning. He said he was in a hospice facility where he felt people were not talking about what was going on and he felt really quite relieved to be able to talk about it openly.”