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A former psychiatric nurse has explained why she quit her NHS job to open a cat café after a career of 20 years.
Kay Allen, 58, of Holloway, north London, was inspired to give up her stressful role as head of a mental health department after visiting a relaxing cat café where moggies can be watched and played – take the plunge and open Whiskers and Cream in 2018 .
She said, “I had joked many times about the idea of running my own coffee shop and making cakes, but after filling something as full as before with the pressure and stress, it almost didn’t feel challenging enough to find the right one Way for me.
“Then I got the idea of running a cat café, and I swapped my old job, which was around the clock and in which I was never really off duty, with responsibility for a cat café around the clock.”
Kay qualified as a psychiatric nurse in 1998 and spent two decades as a clinician working her way through the healthcare system and running a large inpatient psychiatric department in the capital.
There she helped treat people with complex mental health problems, including severe bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and severe personality disorders.
She found the job very rewarding, but also emotionally “traumatic”.
Kay said, “One of the reasons I wanted to get rid of it as I got older was because of the impact of working with so much hardship – you are not only concerned with the plight of patients, but also with the impact on other workers.
“I had enough confidence that I knew I couldn’t do this emotionally indefinitely because I was very, very passionate about what I was doing.
“I’d put it all in, but if you do, you end up taking a lot out of it and bringing it home and your mind is always with you.”
She added, “I wanted to leave while I was still feeling positive about what I was doing and feeling that I could do my job at the required level.”
It was a chance visit to a cat café in June 2017 while on a trip for her birthday that sparked Kay’s imagination when a friend suggested the idea of running her own café for coffee and cake.
She said, “The two things I really love are cats and food, especially the cheeks. For me the fantasy was wow, I can bake with cats in a beautiful setting. How can you still want something? “
At home, Kay has three tabby cats, Max, Tillie and Stevie G, who were named after footballer Steven Gerrard by her 51-year-old wife, Kiran.
Kay left the NHS in March 2018 and gradually opened the cafe just a mile from her home in Holloway by the end of the year to a “mixed bag of reactions” from her former colleagues, family and friends.
She said, “The people I worked with, some of them said, ‘God you are brave,’ others thought I was absolutely crazy!
“Some said they thought it wasn’t going to work and it was going to die a death, they didn’t think it would work, and other people thought it was funny, they just couldn’t imagine it.
“They thought it was strange. Who would go Why should they go Would people pay for the experience?
“Cat cafes, when they do exist and there are probably 15 in the UK if you don’t know you don’t know they are.”
Although concerned, Kay received support from her family, including Kiran, a therapist.
(Image: PA REAL LIFE)
Kay said, “I think they were worried about me leaving the NHS, which is a regular income. I had a good job and was respected. When you see this you may be thinking, why should you leave this?
“It’s a risky time to do it, but then again, I felt if I don’t do it now I’ll be too old to have the energy to do it.”
The cafe is now home to nine cats who all run around while customers enjoy their tea and cake – Devon Rex Trixie, the cafe’s first cat, Tortoiseshell Molly, Amelia, the brown tabby, Jack and Jasper, the Maine Coons, Winnie, the fluffy black cat, Arti the short-haired cat, Oscar the Tonkinese and vanilla, a gray tabby and the oldest of the group.
Everyone has a different personality, with Arti the most loving, Oscar the naughty cat and the very smart Trixie, and the cats all came to the café in different ways.
Winnie and Arti were rescued after their previous owner couldn’t look after them; Vanilla was given to the cafe by a family who emigrated to Australia and Oscar, the cafe’s youngest cat, was a gift for Kiran’s 50th birthday.
On the subject of matching items
On the subject of matching items
“You are so involved in the characters of the cats. I think I’m pretty obsessed with the cats, they’re crazy, ”Kay said.
It was a bumpy road for Kay’s business as it faced renovations and collapsed at midnight in May 2019, before the pandemic.
Describing the unsolved break-in, she said, “They took large sledgehammers and knocked the safe out of the wall. Fortunately, all the cats had just gone into hiding and did not venture onto the main street. “
(Image: PA REAL LIFE)
“With all of these challenges, it took us a while to get started and build a customer base. We have some regulars.
“Right at the point where I thought we’d gotten to the point where we’re used to enough to keep the bills off, we had Covid. There are many companies in the same position, but it was a blow. “
However, Kay is optimistic about the future and looks forward to the cafe reopening when the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.
She said, “It’s a calming and therapeutic space, and even in lockdown, I can sit there in the cafe and people walking by can go from straight faces to almost disguised ‘oh my god’ and huge grins and smiles.
“It gives me so much pleasure given the fact that I treat people’s mental health.”