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Vanessa Feltz launches Coffeehouse Challenge on Bankside

Vanessa Feltz was the host for the first Coffeehouse Challenge of 2006 at Starbucks in New Globe Walk.

Nick Stanton
Cllr Nick Stanton

She was joined by leading local figures to discuss how communities can make themselves heard.

The Coffeehouse Challenge is in its third year. Run by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA), it aims to revive the art of The Coffee House debate. The society itself was founded as a result of a discussion in a coffee house.

Participants in the debate included Southwark Council leader Nick Stanton and Unicorn Theatre artistic director Tony Graham.

Matters of local controversy soon came to the fore, with the proposed lapdancing club in Tooley Street figuring prominently in the debate.

Tony Graham

Tony Graham branded the lapdancing club "offensive to women", "deeply sexist" and for "sad men". "It doesn't belong in the community", he added.

Cllr Stanton emphasised the limitations of local authority powers: "we can't say that we want the Unicorn but we don't want a lapdancing club"

"400 years ago this was the place in London to get screwed, get pissed and take in a show", said Cllr Stanton, saying that he hoped to protect Southwark's "raffish, bohemian and slightly anarchic" quality.

Responding to the suggestion that the new lapdancing club was simply catering for market demand, Tony Graham replied: "There's a great demand for capital punishment, but it doesn't mean we should restore the gallows".

Coffeehouses have long been places for discussion, debate and ideas; places where people meet and engage in conversation. Many innovative ideas have originated from discussions in coffeehouses – the RSA is one of them.

"It enables Fellows to see how the Society's work can be relevant in their community and gives them the opportunity to connect with like-minded individuals," says project manager Gerard Darby. "Fellows who have facilitated discussions have thoroughly enjoyed it".

There are two more Coffeehouse Challenge debates happening in SE1 – a discussion on how to encourage arts activities for under-2s on the South Bank and a debate bringing together Bankside residents and businesses to see how they can better work together.

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