Ahmet Yener has a background in interior design/architecture based on the Bauhaus tradition. He had been running a bookshops/internet cafe in Green lanes (one of the first internet cafes in London) when quite by chance when his ‘cake lady’ suggested he would be well-suited to running a cafe. His first foray was with Springfield Park in 2003, followed by Alexandra Park a few years later. He has never looked back, constantly improving what he offers his customers. His keen interest in art is also evident with his support for various exhibitions.

Friends of Alexandra Park (FoAP): Can you give us some background about the Lakeside Café and how you came to be involved?

There was a public bid in 2007. I was the successful bidder and the Lakeside Café started then. The first months, even the first couple of years, were hard. The area had not been used for quite sometime and there was a lot of undesirable behaviour around. The Park management and our café collaborated with the neighbourhood team to deal with the situation and now we have a pleasant and safe environment. Essentially, attracting more people into the park is the solution. It helps keep trouble away.

FoAP: What is the relationship between the Café and the Trust? In other words, what are the parameters?

We are more closely involved with the management of the Palace/Park rather than the Trust. However, the Trust is the ultimate decision maker and it does seem to me that the Trust wants the best for the Park and the community, which is great. In the last few years its objective has been to put Ally Pally firmly on the map of London and make it an attractive destination, which can only be a good thing.

FoAP: Can you describe the workings of the Café and its objectives?

Our objective is to provide a safe, healthy and leisurely environment to those visitors who come to the Park and use the services, The Palace itself is very cautious, and rightly so, and we benefit greatly from that approach in areas such as fire, security and cleanliness. In coming years we will continue to work closely with the management and groups like the Friends to make sure we provide a great service. We also offer an exhibition space for the local people who would like to share their artistic experiences with Park users. In fact, we have a waiting list for painters, and photographers. And we get fantastic response to it.

FoAP: Can you talk briefly about what you do? For example, what is your typical day and what your job encompasses.

The Café opens its doors to the public at 10am. The staff start earlier so they are ready to serve customers. As the manager of the Café, I have a number of tasks, including the shopping, pre-arranged meetings, plus overseeing the technology and food through to exhibitions, maintenance issues and so on. An important part of that is talking to customers, while I regularly plan ahead to make seasonal changes in our menu. I basically lead the operational support in the background.

FoAP: I understand you also own the café in Springfield Park in east London. What are the similarities/differences with Alexandra Park?

Although the two parks are only 5km away from each other, the differences are quite marked. The park users are different and hence our menus are different too. At Springfield Park we have a lot of breakfast customers whereas at Lakeside our customers tend to be more casual drop-ins, interested in coffee, sandwich and snacks. The similarities lie in the way the parks are used: for walking, jogging, dog walking, school trips, family visits, friends gathering and playing.

FoAP: What is your vision for the Café?

My focus is on providing great service. That’s why my strapline is ‘catering for leisure’ and I use the idea that my customers are choosing to spend their leisure time at our Café to inform all my decisions. We are always working on the quality of our food, providing healthier options, and making it more child-friendly.

Our vision for the Café is that is runs like a hub, and we have now developed the boat house so we can welcome local artists, musicians and entertainers to use it for various purposes such as drawing, painting classes, music sessions for kids, workshops, birthday parties etc.

We are also working on a booklet about the Park’s wildlife and trees of interest to encourage visitors to take more notice of its natural beauty, and we will be seeking some help from the Friends!

FoAP: What are your views on the Park as it is currently?

The Park has highly experienced and expert management and a great team working for them so it feels well looked-after within their budget. As with the Café, they look to make continual improvements, and we all learn from and support each other. Parks are very special areas and people come for all sorts of reasons. The common ground is relaxing, playing, enjoyment and socialising. Hence the slogan: “catering for leisure”.

As you may know, we also have annual outdoor art exhibition which has been run by ReKindle Public Arts since 2008 and this work has also been supported by the Park management.

FoAP: Where would you like it to be over time?

The Park has a very inviting landscape and each corner can offer something surprisingly different. My experience at this corner of the Park is centred on catering and leisure such as boating, and we are now expanding that to events and wider Park features. I’d love to set up a recreational business if and when an opportunity arises, such as a giant natural play ground.

FoAP: What are the particular aspects you love about the Park and why?

I love the view over London. It’s so refreshing and always makes me feel how much I love this city. Then, turning to the north, there is the lake and its wildlife, such as the heron’s waiting post and seeing fish (pike, for example) swimming around. The light is always breathtaking. I also thoroughly enjoy walking to The Grove and looking at pine trees there while picking blackcurrants to make jam.

FoAP: Where in your view could it be improved?

Parking needs to be improved, perhaps with a more user-friendly system. Event weekends can be rather stressful in that sense although I guess some solutions are on the way.

FoAP: What are the biggest challenges you face?

Running a café in the Park is rather challenging. When there is poor weather we can be very quiet and when the good weather comes – especially when it is unexpected – we can be jammed. Managing staffing levels and keeping customers happy can be tricky, especially when it’s suddenly lovely out there. But having had this business for all these years has taught us to get the balance right.

FoAP: How important do you think local community involvement is for the Park?

Local communities are the backbone of local democracy and everything reverberates throughout the local community so I think involvement is crucial. The more service and facilities we have for the local community, the more the community feels ownership, and that leads to a perfect partnership and mutual care.

FoAP: You’ve introduced swan boats to Alexandra Park, then dragons and then cars,. What might be next?

The swans have been a great hit and even featured on Channel 4’s Location, Location, Location recently. They bring attention to the area which draws in new people to discover our lovely Park. So, I’m open to suggestions - what would you like to see next ?