The Story of Battersea Spanish
It’s been 5 years since Sara Caba took a leap of faith and started what would become Battersea Spanish. Here she tells us more about how she came to living in London and what led her to creating a Spanish Language and Cultural Centre in the heart of South London.
How did Battersea Spanish start?
Battersea Spanish is a labour of love. Love for a language and a culture. I left Costa Rica, my home country, more than 15 years ago. I lived in Scandinavia, the US, and then London. By the time I reached London, I could feel I was missing my language, the warmth of my culture, and I think this was the main motivator to start the centre. I was working at the time as a Spanish teacher for adults in a college in London (massive classes, impersonal textbooks and learning spaces) and felt this could be done in a completely different way; warmer, more creative, more vibrant. More like the real thing. So I built a super homemade website with the help of my husband Ben, taught the first class to 4 students, and the rest is history.
What’s the philosophy of Battersea Spanish?
To create warm, creative and unique learning spaces that build communities.
How did you end up in Battersea?
I had been to London as a tourist a couple of times before in my life and I never thought I would live here. I come from a country of 5 million people, so the idea of living in a city of 8.7 million never crossed my mind. My husband’s company moved him to London, and we chose Battersea as our home. It has been a rewarding and beautiful place that has treated us superbly well for more than 8 years now.
What has been the most challenging and rewarding aspects of these initial 5 years?
You start a company because you have a dream, a burning passion to do things differently, but then you don’t know about all the other bits and pieces attached to it: the VAT, the marketing, the competition, the salaries, the admin. I think this was perhaps the most challenging part of transitioning from a centre of 4 students to the cultural hub we have become, with the more than 1,000 students (adults and children) that come to us every year to learn Spanish, Salsa, Flamenco, Bachata, Tango, Creative Writing, Cooking and more.
The most rewarding part of this journey has been the growth, to see how many people not only come to us, but stay with us through the years. When I see them enjoying themselves, full of joy, I feel happy: the dream has come true!
What about being the Director of Battersea Spanish gives you the most joy?
I love getting to know the students of the centre. As we grow, this is something that becomes a bit more challenging. I love running into people outside of class, or at the events, and knowing their story, and what made them choose this language and culture to be part of their lives. I always ask something unique about themselves, this helps me remember them as human beings, not names on a register. Next time I see them it will not be Steve from Advanced Conversation, but Steve who lived in Mexico and is allergic to cats.
How is the Battersea Spanish of today?
Battersea Spanish has become a solidly recognised centre of Spanish and Latin American language and culture in London. Having won the LUKAS Award for Best Spanish School and a number of awards from the Wandsworth Chamber of Commerce has certainly played an important role in positioning us at the top of the spectrum. We have an incredible team of passionate and highly qualified professionals who believe in making a difference while working in the best possible way.
I am extremely proud as well of seeing the growth of newer programs like Dance, Kids, Creative Writing and Cooking, as well as the constant growth of our Cultural Events, which include film screenings, book clubs, book launches, live music, supper clubs, and even trips abroad to Spain and Latin America!
What does the future hold for Battersea Spanish?
A building! Our dream is to consolidate all our activities into a building that includes the classrooms, an events space, and a cultural café, open to students and the general public. This would be a place not where you get cappuccinos or flat whites, but café chorreado de Costa Rica, cortado de España; not BLTs, but sandwich cubano; not Pimms, but tinto de verano. It will be a space of games, chats, live music, encounters; all built around this beautiful and sunny culture of ours.