“It’s a niche within a niche”: Cat café opens in Sheffield city centre

From viral online videos to adorable feline friends, cats are popular amongst young people. The cat adoration spreads this week to Sheffield city centre as Kitty Barn, Sheffield’s newest cat cafe, opens its doors today.

Cat cafes are a relatively new phenomenon in the UK, with the countries’ first opening in 2013, however the trend is growing quickly. Sophie Petford, 21, owner of Kitty Barn, believes there’s a demand for cafes like this.

“It’s a niche within a niche. It’s an independent coffee shop with the addition of cats and I think that’s what this generation needs. It’s just individual little shops that people are going to go for. With shops on the high street closing down because they’re not popular enough and are being replaced by things like this.”

Sophie Petford, owner of Kitty Barn

For Sophie, her decision to open the cafe is an investment. She decided to put the inheritance to good use and open up a business: “The reason I’m opening a business at 21 is because it’s made me grow up quite quickly and I wanted to put the money towards something else.

“If I didn’t put my inheritance towards something now it would just go, probably to Vegas to be honest with you. I’m a 21-year-old with inheritance and I want to do something right with it.”

After registering her business in October last year, Sophie began putting the cafe together. She adopted 10 rescue cats who would have otherwise been sent to shelters.

To make sure the cats’ well-being is maintained, Sophie aims to make sure they are at least two members of staff on to watch the cats’ behaviour and making sure there’s a space for them to go if they need some quiet time.

“We watch them to make sure they’re happy and not getting a bit grumpy because we know straight away if they are in a bit of a mood,” she said.

“We have staff on and extra volunteers to make sure everyone is happy, healthy and safe. We also have check-ups at the vets to make sure everything is okay.  

“These guys are very relaxed, and we have a lot of staff watching them so if there are problems somebody would sort it.”

Sophie also hopes the cafe will be therapeutic to visitors. She believes spending time with animals can be calming and helpful with stress.

“They have more senses then us. It sounds weird to say that, but they know if you’re upset. If you come in your house and something bad has happened, they’ll just sit on your chest and look at you until you’re okay.”

“It’s important for me as well. It all very much does have correlation because obviously with my inheritance, my father passed away when I was 10. You don’t get inheritance and not need something on that side.”

Animal related events and spaces are also popular with students who aren’t able to have their own pets in rented accommodation or miss animals at home. As well as cat cafes, universities have recently run therapeutic sessions with animals such as dogs for students struggling with stress.

Sophie is also planning on running events at the cafe to target mental well-being and children’s interactions with animals. Understanding that children can sometimes be hyperactive around animals, she is currently limiting the cafe to adults until she can be sure the cats will be fine interacting with children.

“It’s about making sure everything is right and safe for everyone and no one gets scratched. I think it’s important while they’re growing up to know about these animals as well.”

“I have always been obsessed with cats. My first cat died when she was 19 and I was 17 so I literally almost had her from my birth. I have always been around them. I have always had that kind of bond with them.”