A creative oasis for neurodivergent people still fighting for rent justice

This vegan cafe and art platform in Cardiff faces relocation as the landlord has increased the rent by 50 percent.

A non-profit cafe in Cardiff run entirely by neurodivergent people is facing closure due to an enormous rent hike.

Aubergine cafe on Clare Road is facing a 50 percent rent rise. Cafe staff and independent campaigners have been fighting against increase that could frighten the operation of this pillar of Cardiff’s community.

Aaron Brown and Sarah Smart. Staff the cafe are still welcoming guests despite the challenges.

In light of the Cost-of-living crisis and the increase of rents throughout the country, Aubergine’s current landlord decided to implement the new price late last year. The rent for the space currently occupied by Aubergine in Riverside has gone up from £800 to £1200 monthly and has posed a great strain on the non-profits’ budget. 

“There doesn’t seem to be any rationale for the increase beyond ‘rents are going up everywhere.’ It just seems really unfair and we cannot afford that at the moment. We’d have to leave and lose all the work and tens of thousands of pounds we put into creating this really special place,” says co-director of Aubergine cafe and neurodivergent artist Aarwn Brown.

All the support the cafe has received has bought Aubergine time for negotiation. At the beginning of this year, they were joined by the Acorn group, a people’s tenants union fighting rent injustice around the UK.

Acorn Cardiff has joined the negotiations with the landlord on the cafe’s side and set an online petition against the rent increase for Aubergine . 

This space in Cardiff’s Riverside has been the venue for many art and educational events for everyone in Cardiff.

“The tenants union has been amazing. They’ve supported us really well helping us set up the petition, organise community action, and facilitate our ongoing negotiations with the landlord.

“They’ve also just been amazing moral support. The whole ordeal has been a lot less scary with them in our corner. They’re doing brilliant and important work for renters right now and we’re really glad to have their support,” says Aarwn Brown. 

The staff and management, the campaigners and others not impartial to the fate of Aubergine are urging people to sign the petition.

Aarwn who himself takes part in the negotiations says, “It was an empty shell when we moved in. Now it’s our home full of joyful memories and experiences that we couldn’t have made anywhere else. Aubergine is one of a kind. There’s nothing else like it in the country as far as we know and we have searched. We don’t want to lose it if we can help it.”

Despite all of the efforts, it may be impossible to save the cafe’s space in the Riverside after all, but there are still many ways to support Aubergine. 

“Sad but landlord won’t negotiate. Still we will have other premises if this fails,” says Sarah Smart, a member of the diverse team at the cafe.

The Cathays community centre has offered its space for Aubergine to relocate to in case its current landlord remains adamant in their decision to raise the rent.

Aaron Brown, Sarah Smart at the cafe. Other organisations have offered their space for Aubergine to relocate to.

Public events on different venues have been set up to promote and fundraise for Aubergine, as well as providing an inclusive and safe creative environment which has been Aubergine’s goal all along.

As the staff and the customers speak about the cafe, their eyes fill with joy, and as they mention the challenges it is currently facing – profound frustration is heard in their every word. Still, the communities in Cardiff strive to come together in supporting each other and making Wales a better place to live in.

Events like this Open Mic at Wales Millennium centre have been set up to promote Aubergine’s cause.

Aarwn Brown says, “Come to our events and see the magic that happens when you get a room full of neurodivergent people and the usual neurotypical rules don’t apply. Whether you’re neurodivergent or not, we love to show people how just a few small adjustments to the environment and working practices can make a huge difference to accessibility for neurodivergent people”.