'Out there, it can be a very non-vegan world': Inside the UK's first vegan-only members' club 

BRIGHT club in Hackney, the UK's first vegan member's club, is making waves in the plant-based social scene. We find out what the fuss is about...
BRIGHT club in Hackney is making waves in the plant-based social scene. We find out what the fuss is about... Credit: Mikaela Spiteri

On Hackney Road in East London, past kaleidoscopic splashes of graffiti and tucked between skyscrapers and as-old-as-time corner shops, is a sleek black building with floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The sign above the door says: THE BRIGHT STORE.

It’s busy. At 10am the coffee machine is already chugging through orders from six expectant customers. The cafe’s countertop is scattered with plump pastries, all of them vegan: croissants filled with melted ‘cheese’, tofurkey and pesto, pain au chocolat, and sugar-dusted muffins. Cool lo-fi thrums from the speakers.

“Cappuccino with… coconut milk, I guess?” I say, scanning the menu. “You should try Bonsoy,” says a voice from behind me, “it’s the best, trust me.” Balancing two teapots and a mug, its source, Laura Callan, BRIGHT’s founder, hops behind the bar.

Callan’s ethical magazine-turned-store, coffee shop and club has come a long way since its conception in 2016. BRIGHT began as a 40-page publication; this now stretches to 80 pages, and the store-cum-community hub, which opened its doors in July 2019, was the first of its kind in the UK: a vegan, members’ only club, offering a co-working space for those who follow (or are interested in) a plant-based lifestyle. Vegetarians and meat-eaters are allowed to cross the threshold, but it’s been a while since I converted from a two-year vegan spell to an omnivorous diet and I couldn’t help but feel a little, well, heathen.

Callan leads me downstairs, past a cosy reading nook with shelves of vegan cookbooks to an open space filled with desks. This, I’m told, is where the magic happens. 

Sareta Puri, BRIGHT's business development management, alongside founder Laura Callan (right)  Credit: Andrew Crowley

“We’ve always tried to create a community, whatever we were doing,” Callan explains as we sit on the sofa (vegan, naturally). “We've been running clubs and meet-ups for a long time and many of our supporters and members wanted a home for BRIGHT. The building became available and we took the chance. We wanted to make it happen.”

Since then, vegan food start-ups, ethical fashion brands, podcasters and freelance creatives have all signed up to use the space at BRIGHT to hold meetings or events, or network generally. 

“Veganism isn’t just about food any more,” says Sareta Puri, BRIGHT’s business development manager. “It has expanded into so much more than that; a code of ethics in which every part of your life is affected. Out there, it can be a very non-vegan world. We wanted to create our own community space here where people feel valued, supported, and normal.” 

Vegan services are rising in popularity; around the country, lawyers, recruitment and HR teams are made increasingly aware of the issues surrounding vegan ethics. Just this month, a judge ruled that ethical vegans are entitled to similar legal protections in British workplaces as those who hold religious beliefs, after Jordi Casamitjana was sacked for gross misconduct from the League Against Cruel Sports; a case which continues to be unresolved. 

Callan, who has been vegan for 12 years, recalls a time when she hardly knew any other vegans. But now, thanks to social movements like Veganuary and Netflix’s Game Changers, word has spread. There’s even a carbon-neutral, vegan football team – Forest Green Rovers – the country’s first, in Gloucestershire.

The interior of BRIGHT’s Hackney HQ is painted white deliberately, so it can be regularly transformed for events – anything from a bustling market with stalls of candles and cakes, to workshops on social media, business skills and live podcasts (the most recent hosted by vegan food writers Brett Cobbley and Rachel Ama). 

Though many events are open to the public, members (who must be vegan) have access to discounted tickets to events like Vegan Queen Brunches, regular yoga classes and holistic weekends. “No one in vegan business sees each other as competition,” says Callan with a laugh. “We’re all colleagues. I feel comfortable bouncing ideas off people and asking how they achieved this, or got round that.”

One member, Emilia Leese, a corporate finance lawyer and author of an upcoming book Think Like A Vegan, tells me that she met an editor at one of the events. The pair hit it off and Leese was able to get a fresh pair of eyes on her first draft. Brunches are all conversation, avocado-on-toast and slices of cake by Vane Miquilena, co-founder of nearby Vida Bakery.

Food writers Brett Cobbley and Rachel Ama at the live podcast launch of Soy Division  Credit: Mikaela Spiteri

Today, the space is being used by a group of professionals, men and women, working at the desks beside me. “I’ve met people who can empathise with what I’m going through as a vegan business owner,” says Kasia Ring, founder of Care Wears, an eco-friendly screen-printing company. “I’m here all of the time! It’s nice to not be treated like I’m an outsider. I don’t have to explain myself and we’re all on the same level.” 

Colette George, a freelance personal trainer, is as ebullient. “I absolutely love the ethos,” she says. “It can get so stuffy in the gym; here, I can relax and have a chat. Hackney is a little out of my way but I love coming as it feels like I have my own office and a community. Plus they don’t try and charge me £2 extra for oat milk!” 

As I finish my reasonably priced cappuccino (Callan was right – the Bonsoy soya milk did taste good), BRIGHT’s founder tells me she is confident about its longevity. “We’re changing the magazine to a bi-annual publication, giving us more time to concentrate on expanding things here.” 

The club’s membership plans, from day rates through to full time (£200 per month for unlimited access including free yoga lessons, among other perks) are competitive with other co-working clubs in the capital. And as the number of vegans in the UK rises – recently tipping 600,000, according to a recent survey – there has never been more support for the cause. Vegan or not, the future looks bright.