What started out as a café and gallery in 2015 – the White Room in Castletownbere – has since expanded and plays a vital role in the community. Spearheaded by a German couple who say they wanted to give something back, they've mor
By Helen Riddell
A HUB in the heart of Castletownbere is providing everything from a start-up business space to an indoor food market.
On top of that, there’s a café where you can pay what you think your food deserves, while future plans include hosting a flea market to promote local designers.
Launched in 2015 as a small café and gallery, the White Room, in the heart of Castletownbere is now clearly much more than somewhere to stop for a coffee. Run by a German couple, architect and software designer Jergan Janssen-Jerom and his artist partner, Felicitas Gross, it is essentially a hub which includes a café, a co-working office space, an art gallery and a central hall for hosting both musical events and an indoor market.
Located in former marine buildings just off the main quay of Ireland’s largest fishing port, the White Room is a small but welcoming venue. On its pristine white walls are a selection of the couple’s artwork, while a number of smaller tables surround a central communal table celebrating its sharing and co-existing ethos. The café, explains Felicitas was set up to be a “share cafe”, where food and drinks have a suggested donation price and customers have the option to add to this if they wish. The café is also available to individuals or groups to run it themselves for a daily charge, to try specific styles of cooking or different menus. It’s a way, Felicitas says that anyone wanting to get into the catering business can have the freedom to experiment without having large overheads, whilst at the same time adding to the variety of food on offer in the town, both to visitors and residents.
Adjacent to the café area is a large space which Felicitas outlines has a number of different uses. ‘We are planning to start a weekly Sunday flea-market soon and are looking for stall owners who are interested in trading in the space, including maybe young fashion designers who need somewhere to showcase their work,’ she said.
They also plan to use the space, for a weekly or monthly indoor food market. ‘There is so much good quality artisan food in this area we want to offer the producers a vibrant market space to trade in, with live music if possible, so any musicians are welcome to come along as well,’ they said.
The market hall area can also be used to host a pizza oven area, salad bar or tiny bakery. ‘Basically we want to encourage and provide a venue for good quality street food,’ Felicitas said.
Upstairs the couple are putting the finishing touches to a communal working hub, which has wide views over the busy fishing quay and boats coming and going from Dinish Island. The hub will have 20 work spaces, a conference room and a number of separate side rooms, along with a secretarial service, art studio and small meditation space. It will also have a high-speed Internet connection and video conferencing facilities. It can be used either for locally based start-ups or work travellers and has a number of membership options. Felicitas says: ‘This would be perfect for young business start ups, who are trying to get established. We want to give something back to Castletownbere.’
With a major €23.5million development currently underway in Castletownbere Harbour, and the town’s key location on the Wild Atlantic Way, the couple are confident the town has huge potential, but needs to have the services in order to attracts new businesses.
‘We feel this co-working space will be the way forward for Castletownbere and attract more creative people to the area.’
Meanwhile, the café itself plays host to a number of ever growing regular events. A monthly poetry night held on the last Friday of the month attracts a core group both to read from their own poetry and from published authors. The café also hosts regular jazz, folk or classical live music sessions and a twice monthly film club. There is also a gaming club with chess, IT and team games competitions. Candlelight dinner nights with live music are held once or twice a month, and a special dinner is being planned for New Year’s Eve with live music.
Jergen and Felicitas have been living in Beara for a number of years. Jergen, who was an architect in Germany also had his own jazz bar and previously owned an art café. He is also involved in software design and is the creator of a new community software platform which will offer secure and independent computer services and web hosting and which will be available in the co-working hub at the White Room. On making the decision to move to Ireland Jergen first looked towards Connemara, but says Felicitas fell in love with Beara, both for its landscape and milder climate. ‘Jergen moved here in 2000 and then I joined him in 2006, we lived in an old cottage at first before building our own wooden house,’ she said.
Felicitas is confident the White Room has huge potential to grow and expand, ultimately led by its customers and added: ‘We are open to everything and all ideas, and people with ideas are always welcome here on Beara.’