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Yada: the only completely alcohol-free bar in Derby

Yada is popular with Derby students who want to feel at ease in their surroundings <i>(Image: Jo Caird)</i>
Yada is popular with Derby students who want to feel at ease in their surroundings (Image: Jo Caird)

By this point of a new year many of us will be reflecting on new year’s resolutions which have turned out to be a roaring success or, alas, fallen by the wayside.

As far as short-term resolutions go, the ‘Dry January’ campaign, which started in 2013, remains popular, as people refrain from alcohol for the first month of the year, perhaps to offset one too many festive sherries!

However, for some, abstaining from alcohol – or reducing the amount they drink – is more of a long-term positive lifestyle choice.

One of the many thoughts that arise on making such a decision is how this will potentially affect an individual’s social life. Let’s face it, alcohol is everywhere.

It’s a road that Derby’s Craig Picton and Rhondell Stabana have already travelled on.

Indeed, it was back in 2016 that Craig and Rhondell, then students at the University of Derby, had a moment of realisation.

‘If you didn’t drink but wanted to socialise of an evening, there was literally nothing else do to,’ reflects Craig. ‘You could go round to other people’s houses but even then, most of the time the occasions were focused around drink.’

Various ideas were mooted to address this problem but it wasn’t until the following year, after Craig and Rhondell had graduated, that the pair’s ambition to ‘provide that safe space’ came to fruition - beginning with a monthly pop-up alcohol-free club night.

Great British Life: Craig belives the bar offers a 'late-night cafe-style' environment Craig belives the bar offers a 'late-night cafe-style' environment (Image: Jo Caird)
 

‘The pop-up was really well received and steadily gained momentum, but there were limitations to it,’ says Craig. ‘We were just based in other people's venues, utilising their drinks that they were providing us, as well as being completely dependent on their entertainment offering.

‘The long-term dream then became to have our own place, that really motivated us – how big could we make this?’

When a Derby city centre venue became available in late 2019, Craig and Rhondell jumped at the chance.

Working hard on kitting the place out through the various Covid-19 lockdowns, they finally opened to customers in the summer of 2021 and Yada Collective was born – its name, a Hebrew word meaning ‘get to know’, a nod to the deeper connections made possible by the absence of alcohol, and to the Christian beliefs of the bar’s founders.

It’s certainly been a journey – and an evolution. As a pop-up, Yada’s vibe was very much dependent on the type of venue it was popping up in, while its late-night café incarnation has, describes Craig, ‘more of a community kind of feel.’

‘Where we are now, the atmosphere has settled somewhere in between,’ he adds. ‘It’s vibey enough to feel like a night out but chilled enough to host a games night, among other events. It’s a nice mix.’

Yada regulars are a diverse bunch, with the demographic on any given evening depending on the event they’ve got going on.

‘For some of our customers, the fact we don’t serve alcohol is neither here nor there,’ reveals Craig. ‘Whether it be the poetry night or the games we provide, they come for that reason. It just so happens we sell good quality drinks that are alcohol-free.

Great British Life: Creating a non-alcoholic cocktail, or 'mocktail'Creating a non-alcoholic cocktail, or 'mocktail' (Image: Jo Caird)
 

‘For those specifically seeking to avoid alcohol, however, Yada serves as safe space where people can come and socialise and feel at ease in their surroundings.’

The concept of a city centre alcohol-free bar would have been hard to envisage in previous generations, but not anymore, with the proportion of young people in England choosing to avoid alcohol seemingly on the rise.

According to annual health surveys run by the NHS, the proportion of 18-24-year-olds who do not drink alcohol rose from 18% in 2005 to 29% in 2019.

Further, the proportion of young people drinking over the recommended amounts also fell, and the number of ‘lifetime abstainers’ went up.

What’s more, for those that do drink alcohol, they’re tending to start later than they used to, according to survey findings.

It's not clear exactly what’s behind this trend. Some have suggested that there’s been a reduction in the stigma associated with teetotalism, while others posit a better understanding among young people of the negative health impacts of drinking too much alcohol.

What is clear is that this increase in non-drinking cuts across vast swathes of young people, regardless of education, geography and social class.

Great British Life: Craig Picton and Rhondell Stabana at Yada's pop-up bar Craig Picton and Rhondell Stabana at Yada's pop-up bar (Image: Jo Caird)

Many of this increasingly large group of teetotal consumers in Derby and beyond will be happy hanging out in traditional alcohol-focused environments like pubs and bars, but not all of them, with Yada flying the flag here in Derbyshire, along with the slowly increasing number of other dedicated alcohol-free bars springing up around the UK.

‘We weren’t the very first alcohol-free venue, but there was a period where we were the only one,’ reveals Craig.

‘Because of Covid, lot of the others had shut down, either temporarily or permanently, and because of that we felt like a bit of trailblazer and that a lot of people were watching us to see whether we could make it work.

‘Between the bars that have opened in recent years, and the surge of alcohol-free drinks coming onto the market, people are really starting to see this is a trend that is here to stay.’

Ah, the drinks… ‘The focus at Yada has always been on providing a good quality alternative,’ explains Craig. ‘If people aren't coming for the alcohol they'll need to drink something and we don't want to be giving them water, squash, cheap coffee, those sorts of things.’

Back when Craig and Rhondell first launched the pop-up, the alcohol-free drinks market offered pretty slim pickings.

Craig remembers mixing up their own ‘slushy cocktail-type things’ for club nights back in the day and having to go direct to producers to source good quality drinks.

Great British Life: Entertainment at Yada Entertainment at Yada (Image: Jo Caird)

Now they’re spoilt for choice, with wholesalers stocking alternatives for practically every alcoholic drink going, from beers, ciders and wines to a dazzling array of alcohol-free spirits.

Then there’s the less well-known options, such as kombucha, an alcohol-free fermented tea drink thought to have originated in China which has become a surprise hit with Yada customers.

‘Kombucha is an interesting one because it’s a drink that isn’t huge in the UK yet, but it is very popular elsewhere,’ suggests Craig.

‘Among the kombuchas stocked by the bar are some made by local producer, So Good Kombucha, based on Pride Park, in Derby. A lot of the people coming in have got to know that brewer and are excited to try whatever they bring out.’

Cocktail afficionados, meanwhile, can avail themselves of the Cocktail Club, a monthly mixology class exploring the potential of alcohol-free spirits.

Such is the success of the drinks side of things that Yada also runs an online store shipping beers, wines, ciders and more, all over the UK, allowing those not based in Derby to share the Yada Collective experience while putting the city and county on the map as interest in alcohol-free spaces continues to grow. But will Yada grow too?

Certainly, one day, Craig and his co-founders would like to expand to other locations beyond Derby, with a vision that sees alcohol-free venues following in the footsteps of vegan restaurants - a once niche dining category that, over the course of just a few years, has become mainstream and widely available.

What form Yada’s expansion will take is still under discussion – whether the team simply take on another venue of their own or operate a sort of community interest franchise model, for example – but there’s certainly no doubting their ambition.

In the meantime, the Yada mobile bar has been popping up at festivals, weddings and other events in and around Derby, and there’s also the Sober Community Map, which launched in 2022.

‘This was inspired by the increasing number of ‘sober groups’ and communities we saw sprouting up not just here in Derbyshire but around the country,’ says Craig.

‘It’s there to connect people to their closest community and to find others who share similar experiences around sobriety or alcohol moderation.’

Times aren’t exactly easy for the hospitality sector right now, between the cost-of-living crisis, energy price rises and other inflationary pressures. Yet Craig remains optimistic for the future.

‘We started off on the back of an already challenging Covid crisis, so it’s been one crisis after another in that respect,’ he concludes.

‘At the end of the day, we know we’re operating a unique and niche community that is rapidly growing as more people become aware of the upsides to moderating drinking, aided by the great drink options which are now available and increasing.

‘We’re continuing to ride that wave and we know as more people discover our bar and our communities that they too will catch the aspirations we have for the Yada Collective and join in. We’re proud of what we offer the public and are proud to be based in Derby.’



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