Introducing Robert Ian Bonnick

Every precinct has characters, supporters and community members that stand out.  Redfern has many.  One of the diamonds that binds part of the fabric of Redfern is Robert Ian Bonnick, the owner of Social-Laneway.  He’s an entrepreneur, husband, father of two and an advocate of many.

Kelly sat with Robert for a quick chat that turned into over 2 hours – his enthusiasm and passion is now captured on film.  We truly hope you enjoy the read and listen to these wonderful videos.

With a background so diverse and entertaining, did you always plan to open your own cafe – Social Laneway?

I grew up in two orphanages in the UK (London) from about 6 months of age till 18. I learnt early on, different things happen positive and negative. From there I learnt my purpose. My purpose is bringing people together, inspiring them to learn about each other as well as themselves. We understand ourselves better when we understand the similarities between us.

I found that I was drawn most strongly to things that gave an outlet for this, for example running nightclubs. Massive amounts of people, different people different background, different ideologies, bring them together around music and dance. Cafes, bars, it all runs through the same conduit, you know, bringing people together from vastly different backgrounds and from letting them learn about each other.

One’s music and dance, one’s coffee, one’s food but the essence is really the same, and that is bringing people together. Even though I didn’t have the idea of a cafe per se, I guess it was a natural part of the story to continue into that particular area.

How did you end up in Redfern, what do you like about it and the local community? 

When we were looking for locations we had a bunch of criteria.  One was to be close to something like a train station – a lot of people coming to and fro every day, regardless of weather, regardless of time of year. Another was a 30 to 40 sq metre site, we didn’t want to go too big or too small. Another factor was a place where there wasn’t too much competition, where there’s opportunity to grow. We wanted within 10 – 15 Km’s of the city so we had a bunch of different locations that we were looking at.

Redfern was one of those locations but the interesting part of it is we looked at a site that was completely wrong but as it happened that agent had another location which was our site now. As soon as we saw it we both agreed instantly that’s it. It seems like it was meant to be, like it was predestined,

There was one particular guy, Byron, he began to explain to me about Redfern, the community, what particular issues it was going through with the youth, crime, unemployment as well as all the very positive aspects of it as well. He asked me to come and lend my support to a programme called ‘Clean Slate without prejudice’ which was set up by the police and Tribal Warrior association. This programme essentially takes the youth of the streets that are offending and takes them boxing, teaches them routine and discipline, with a mentoring programme attached. That was my initial introduction to the community and it just kept growing from there.

We love Redfern, love the community aspect and love the fact that they’ve enveloped us and invited us to be part of the community. We’re happy to do what we can to uplift and spread the good word of what’s happening in Redfern because there’s so much good going on.


Read the full interview in the spring issue of the SouthXSouth magazine.