“you never know what you’re going to walk into” — kathryn hodgkinson, ernestBack
We heard that the Ouseburn Valley in NewcastleGateshead was a good place to go to see art and drink in independent pubs, which sounded like a lovely combination. We wanted to know if what we heard was true, so we went to see Kathryn Hodgkinson, artist and co-director of Ernest café bar.
Ernest is at the top edge of the Valley, so it seemed like a good place to meet. It was a Monday afternoon and the café was busy. A few people were working on laptops, but many more were talking, eating lunch and laughing. It felt like a wonderful place to start the week, with lovely coffee, and food and friends.
And then we thought about ending the week at Ernest, where an afternoon could extend into the evening and we could drink gin and maybe even dance, depending on the day. Depending on the day at Ernest you can listen to a live band, eat brunch, learn to tango, have a meeting, play disco ping pong, watch films and dance to house music. It’s just that kind of place.
“Honestly, sometimes with Ernest you never know what you’re going to walk into,” says Kathryn, after we’ve sat down at a table. “It’s just really, really diverse and eclectic.”
It’s not deliberate. Kathryn tells us that when she began running Ernest with artist Mark Collett, they were approached with ideas from the local community, business owners and Ernest’s staff. Some of the ideas were good, and some were bizarre, but Kathryn decided to say yes to almost all of them; suddenly Ernest became more than a café bar. It was a transformative space where crazy ideas can become creative realities.
“I think if you say yes to everything, then that’s what your place becomes,” says Kathryn. “You know, food and drink doesn’t make lots of money, especially if you’re invested in the creativity behind it. But we do it because we love doing it. I get a massive satisfaction coming down and seeing a row of people that were here the day before.
“We’ve got a very, very loyal following of regulars. Sometimes they’ll come in with their laptop and sit for hours, or they’ll come in for a coffee on their way to work and be back in again in the evening for the night.
“There’s a real community aspect to it,” she adds.
That community extends beyond Ernest to the Ouseburn Valley, where the combination of art, heritage and collaboration are fuelling NewcastleGateshead’s cultural and independent side.
“You know when you go to a city and you want to find those quirky, interesting bits? A lot of that is located in this little area, which is the Valley,” says Kathryn.
“It think it’s brilliant. It has always had loads of independent pubs. It’s all very green. There’s a little farm down in the bottom, and there are stables, so I can be in my office and from my window I can see horses going past. If you go to the end of the Valley there are four or five different bridges that span it, all from different eras.
“From here at Ernest, we’re about a six or seven minute walk to the centre of Newcastle. It’s right on the doorstep.”
Ouseburn Valley is also a home for artists. Kathryn tells us about the high density of artists and studio groups in the area, and the collaborative, supportive nature of the creative community. Which is brilliant, she says, but people don’t know about it.
“Every year at the end of November we have something called Open Studios where people can come for free and wander around amazing buildings full of artist studios, where artists sell their wares,” she says. “It’s a really, really cool, interesting thing to do. I don’t think we shout about things like that enough.”
For Kathryn, shouting about great things in Newcastle means saying yes to as much as she can, and allowing Ernest to become a space for as many creative people as possible to try out their work and ideas, including their staff.
“We try to allow space for all of our staff to be themselves,” she says. “If they want to put an exhibition on in the backroom, then do it. If they want to programme a film night, let them do that.
“Some companies out there say this is who we are, these are our targets, and this is what we’re going to be. If that’s what people want to do that’s fine, but it’s not what we’re doing.”
We ask Kathryn if one day there will be another Ernest in Newcastle.
She laughs. “We might do some more cafés, but they’d be totally different. There won’t be another Ernest.”
This promoted story was paid for by NewcastleGateshead Initiative and produced by The City Talking