Shining a light on Cornwall’s pioneers, Seasalt celebrates the flourishing local talent. Each month, in support of their passion, we share their inspiring stories.
This month, we met Flo Gibson and Oona James Mills from Jubilee Pool Café, a pioneering community project in Penzance.
What’s the story behind the café, and how did you get involved?
Flo: We run the café as a social enterprise, so it means that everything we do is for the pool and the community. All our profit goes straight back into the pool and its maintenance.
It’s a pretty expensive thing to run – every single winter a team comes in to repair the concrete, drain the pool, clean it and paint it. And that’s not taking into account any natural disasters. A few years ago, part of the pool was damaged in the winter storms and they thought they weren’t going to be able to rebuild it. That’s why having Friends of Jubilee Pool (the charity that took on the lease of the pool and the café this year) looking after it and making sure there will be money for future repairs and maintenance is so important.
I moved back from London at the end of 2016. The Jubilee Pool is so beautiful and iconic, and it had always been a special place for me growing up. I jumped at the opportunity to lead the team when the job came up, and persuaded Oona to come on board as chef.
Where do you source your produce from, and what kind of food do you offer?
Oona: We’re big believers in having locally sourced produce and supporting our local economy, especially here in Cornwall where it’s so seasonal. We use Cornish free-range eggs, Trewithen Dairy butter, cream and milk, and Cornish sausage meat in all our sausage rolls.
We also work with some lovely suppliers, like Yallah in Penryn for our coffee, which is all single origin. Our friend Meg, who runs One Field Farm brings us some amazing produce which is all grown organically; her cauliflowers are about four times the size we get from any other supplier! Whenever she’s coming down to Penzance, she’ll give us a ring and see if we need anything. We get all our bread from St Ives Bakery; they make incredible slow fermented sourdough, and we use their baps for our breakfasts.
Jubilee Pool Café is all about simple food and exciting flavours. We really love making all the condiments – we do a bacon bap, but it’s got our homemade brown sauce in it. When the bay was leaping with mackerel, we were doing mackerel rolls with aioli and watercress. We make sure there’s something for all tastes – children can enjoy our food, but there’s something for the real foodies as well.
Who or what inspires you?
Flo: Friends and family. Taking inspiration from people that are close to you and thinking, what are they doing? What can we learn from that, and how can we improve what we’re doing?
Oona: It’s a pretty inspiring place to work – you’ve got the panoramic views of Mount’s Bay, and often we see beautiful sunrises on our walk to work. People-wise, we’ve got Wendy Wilbraham, who’s the mum of one of our schoolfriends and makes some of the pottery we use in the cafe. Everything she touches is absolutely beautiful, so it’s really nice she’s involved here. She’s someone whose opinion I really trust on food, and I always get her to try our recipes or chat to her about pizza flavours and things like that when she pops down.
What kind of clothes do you prefer to wear when you’re working?
Flo: It has to be comfortable and practical, because in the summer we’re here from 6am baking, through to the beginning of evening service, and sometimes we’ll do the evening service as well. In the summer it’s high-waisted shorts you can tuck a T-shirt into and comfy shoes. Now it’s winter, it’s about comfy trousers and a nice long-sleeved top that’s going to keep you warm. You’re also on display, so you still want to look nice and feel a little bit special. It’s striking the balance between those things.
Oona: At work during the summer, we tend to wear bikinis with our Save the Lido tops over the top – you never know when you’re going to get five minutes to jump in the pool or in the sea! In the winter, because we’re an indoor/outdoor café, it’s more like woolly jumpers. We tend to wear matching clothes quite a lot, which is not always intentional!
Can you give us a sneak peak of what you’ve got planned for the café in 2018?
Flo: 2018 is going to be an exciting year for Jubilee Pool and the café. Thanks to EU funding we’ve just started drilling a geothermal well. We’ll soon be launching a community fundraising campaign to enable us to make a heated section of the pool (so visitors can enjoy bathing in waters of up to 35˚C) and create a hospitality terrace including a new café. So, from 2019, Jubilee Pool will operate all year-round.
In the meantime, we’re going to be improving our recipes and honing what we do at the café to make it an even better place to visit.
What does a typical day look like for you?
Oona: It really depends on the season. In the summer, we have quite early starts – we’ll be making the most of that hour before the customers are here to get as many cakes as we can in the oven. During the day, I’m normally on food service and Flo’s front of house, but we’ll be piling the counter as high as we possibly can and always trying to make sure there’s plenty of cake. We also make quite a lot of sausage rolls, that’s a daily task. If it’s been really hot, I usually jump in the sea at the end of the day, as the pool’s closed by the time we finish.
Apart from taking a dip in Jubilee Pool, what’s your top tip for anyone visiting Penzance?
Oona: I’ve only recently moved to Penzance. Although I grew up in Cornwall, there’s a totally different feel here to anywhere else that I’ve lived. I walk down Chapel Street every morning when I come to work and it’s full of absolutely stunning buildings and incredible shops. Number 56 is a really gorgeous homeware shop and Carol, who runs it, has exquisite taste – everything there is beautiful.
I also love walking along the prom towards Newlyn. Although it’s only a tiny village it has an independent cinema and art gallery. You’ve got to finish with Jelbert’s ice cream – you can only get it in Newlyn. There’s just one flavour and it’s absolutely delicious.
Flo: I’d also get in a car and drive around Penwith. We’re so lucky with all the different beaches and coves nearby, and all the walks that you can do around here. There’s something magical about it – it’s got a different energy to the rest of Cornwall. We both grew up down here, but I didn’t spend any time around Land’s End, so exploring the countryside and the coast has been really special.
What’s the best thing about living and working in Cornwall?
Flo: You get to be surrounded by this beautiful landscape every day when you go to work. It’s such a contrast to my time in London, when I was slogging from one side of the city to the other. Here, I walk out of my front door and look out across Mount’s Bay. Every single day the view’s different.
Oona: I’ve been away for the last eight years, so coming home to Cornwall has been incredible. We make the most of being able to swim whenever we can, whether it’s rain or shine. West Penwith is stunningly beautiful and quite often not as busy as the rest of Cornwall, because it really is as far south as you can get. It’s lovely seeing the Scillonian ferry go out every morning. I keep thinking I need to hop over to the Scillies…
Flo wears: Sailor Shirt
Oona wears: Sailor Shirt & Rockcliff Shirt