We get on board with the one-of-a-kind London board game café that calls a double-decker bus its home
This article was originally published in our February 2019 issue. As a result of COVID-19, Cakes & Ladders is asking for your help to stay open, and has launched a crowdfunder with various perks to redeem when normality resumes. We talk about it a little more here, but you can see their crowdfunder here.
Interview by Matt Jarvis | Pictures by Ben Broomfield Photography
What’s the origins story of Cakes & Ladders?
Inspired by their passion for board gaming culture and the ability of games to bring people together, Ruth and Hywel began working on their dream for their own community board game cafe and social enterprise in 2015. They recognised the growing demand for more community spaces in North London and began to attend local street markets and run pop-up board game sessions in local cafés and bars. Early in 2018 Hywel and Ruth decided to leave their jobs to focus entirely on finding the right premises for the café.
They soon met Alex from Earth Ale, who was relocating his microbrewery to Wood Green and about to open a taproom on a double-decker bus in Blue House Yard, Wood Green. Looking for a café to run on the bus during the daytime and surprisingly happy to house the ever increasing board game collection, Ruth and Hywel decided to come on-board... excuse the pun!
Cakes & Ladders opened around a year ago. How have your first 12 months been?
Hectic! At our launch party over the summer we had a fully packed bus with everyone enjoying games, coffee, cake and beers. The sun was out, and we also had about 100 or so people spilling out into the Blue House Yard – the party went on until 2am if memory serves correctly! Since then we’ve been working hard building our menu, brand and board game library, to ensure that people have the best possible experience when they come on board.
What unique challenges does a bus have for storing so many games?
Space is possibly the biggest issue we face on the bus. However, our friendly neighbourhood carpenter has knocked up lots of ingenious shelving to ensure we have over 400 games – and counting – stashed on board! The next plan is to build some storage in-between the seats on the top deck, so watch this space...
Do you have any plans to expand beyond the bus in the future?
Cakes & Ladders would love to find a more permanent home some point soon. We have already expanded, albeit temporarily, to our pop-up Christmas board game shop just next door to the bus itself. The site is only secured for the next three years, so come 2020 we will be looking for pastures new, and very open to any opportunities that might come our way!
Do you run any events for gamers in your local area?
We run an open play evening every Monday from 6pm, where people can come and play with a group if they don’t have regular people to play with – we try and match everyone up with a group and a game on the day. We have also run several successful RPG evenings, with Kristian our resident roleplaying expert overseeing an outdoor game of Dread with a giant Jenga tower. We had our introduction to Dungeons & Dragons event before Christmas, which proved really popular.
You’ve involved with the local community. Do you mind telling us a bit more about that?
In Hywel’s work in the mental health sector, he noticed a lack of activities based in the local community, and also observed the power of board games to bring people together, so decided to combine the two to create Board Games for Wellbeing. Every Tuesday afternoon from 2 to 4pm we run a free drop-in Board Games for Wellbeing session, aimed at people using local health and social care services, and basically anyone in the community who would like to get out more, meet new people or learn some fun new games! We work in partnership with Mind in Haringey, as well as being members of the local dementia alliance and Tempo Time Credits, which allows people to turn their volunteering time into credits to spend on different experiences, including playing board games on our bus.
What are you especially looking forward to bringing to the bus in 2019?
We have some exciting Kickstarters arriving in 2019, such as Kitty Cataclysm, Seize the Bean, Fire in the Library and Welcome to Dino World. We also hope to be adding some new releases including Forbidden Sky, Root, Dinosaur Island and Cavern Tavern – once we can find them in stock!
What else do you have planned for Cakes & Ladders in the future?
Having got the basics under control, we’re really looking forward to developing the business in 2019, through events, an online board game shop and plenty more besides!
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
The Bus Café, Blue House Yard, 5 River Park Road, London, N22 7TB
07963 359 734 or 07817 163 825 cakesandladders.co.uk