What’s For Lunch?

How often do you take your full lunch break? Local worker Laura Archer challenged herself to make better use of hers every day and then she wrote a book about it. Here she picks her nine favourite EC1 lunchtime activites. 

Did you know that a year’s worth of lunch breaks adds up to more than five weeks of annual leave? Prompted by guilt over never getting round to writing the letter I’d promised a friend, and by a growing awareness of the wasted opportunity that my lunch hour presented, I decided to write a wish-list of all the things I wanted to do but never found the time for. I then made myself use my lunch break in which to achieve them.

Almost instantly, my energy levels received a much-needed boost, and my motivation and job satisfaction shot through the roof. It was such a satisfying exercise that I wrote a book about it, Gone for Lunch: 52 Things to do in your Lunch Break. Personally, I believe that you’re more efficient at work if you have your lunch break, so next time you take yours, don’t feel bad, feel good!

1. Visit a local museum
I work at the Museum of London so I would say this – but it’s also true: we’re spoilt for choice when it comes to museums and heritage sites in Clerkenwell, most of which are free to enter. Inject a little learning and fascination into your lunch breaks and visit somewhere dfferent each day (this is one for a quiet week when you don’t have to rush back to your desk too quickly). Visit the Museum of London for the city’s social history; the Barbican for leading contemporary art; The Charterhouse for 700 years of Smithfield; the Charles Dickens Museum for a glimpse of the author’s house; The Foundling Museum for Britain’s first home for abandoned children; and The Museum of the Order of St John for tales of the Knights Hospitallers and the origins of St John’s Ambulance. (See number 9…)

2. Enjoy a fry-up at Smithfield
You rarely need an excuse to have a fry-up but if you’re the type of person who does, how about the fact that we have the largest wholesale meat market in the UK right on our doorstep? Start making the most of those sausages! Beppe’s Café in West Smith eld is my favourite place to go for a Full English – not just for the food but also the staff and the atmosphere – or, for a Full Irish, J+A Café on Great Sutton Street is a buttery dream. Beppe’s Café, 23 West Smithfield and J+A Café, 1-4 Sutton Lane, www.jandacafe.com

3. Sample some street food
Mighty as the egg-and-cress sandwich is, sometimes it’s nice to warm your cockles with something hot and homemade instead. Clerkenwell is full of street-food markets to roam. There’s Exmouth Market to the north, Whitecross Street to the east; Leather Lane to the west; and to the south (though not strictly a market), Cubana at 59 Charterhouse Street –it does a mouth-watering selection of takeaway Cuban dishes. www.cubana.co.uk

4. Relax at a free concert
This is one of my favourite lunchtime things to do because it really transports you away from office life. Dip into a world of beauty by dropping into a free concert (even if you only have 10 minutes). St Bartholomew-the-Great church holds regular concerts every Thursday at 1.05pm, and City University has a programme of lunchtime concerts, held at its Performance Space on St John Street. If you’re going to St Bart’s, build in an extra 10 minutes to take in the stunning 12th-century surroundings. In either case, do double-check the relevant website first for details and confirmation the event is taking place. www.greatstbarts.com and www.city.ac.uk

5. Have a tattoo consultation
Do you ever feel like tearing off that suit, dying your hair a colour that doesn’t sit well with your HR department and getting a full-blown body tatt?! Or are you just someone who quite likes tattoos, already has a few, and wouldn’t mind getting some more? Either way, why not explore the idea further during a lunch hour and pop into The Family Business in Exmouth Market? It’s one of the best tattoo parlours in London and, even if the idea of inking up doesn’t grab you just yet, a flick through the books of stunning handiwork is worth the trip alone. www.thefamilybusinesstattoo.com

6. Do meditation, yoga or Pilates
If your working day is full of noise, stress and endless email notifications, there’s nothing better you can do for your brain than give it some serious downtime. Join a meditation, yoga or Pilates class: it might feel like you don’t have time, let alone the mind space, but I promise just half an hour away from your desk will double your productivity in the afternoon. St Mark’s Church in Myddelton Square offers free meditation sessions every weekday 1-1.30pm or, if you’re not against spending a bit of money on a class, Clerkenwellbeing on Goswell Road runs lunchtime meditation, yoga and Pilates sessions (£14 per class or £64 for eight classes). Pilates Yoga Movement, based on the top oor of the same building, runs various drop-in classes over the lunch period (£20 per class or £190 for 10 classes). And Ten Health & Fitness on Hatton Garden holds Dynamic Reformer Pilates classes daily at 1pm (£30 a session or £210 for 10 sessions). www.stmarks-clerkenwell.co.uk and www.clerkenwellbeing.co.uk and www.ten.co.uk

 7. Ride the Mail Rail
Forget the Tube – everyone does that. Take an underground trip with a difference and grab a ticket for the Postal Museum’s Mail Rail experience; it’s a ride on a miniature train along the tracks and through the tunnels that were used for years to transport all the post across London. It’s a short whizz (it only takes 15 minutes) and it costs £17 but it’s worth it – you really feel like you’re doing something unusual with your lunch hour. Book in advance. www.postalmuseum.org

8. Brush up on modern art
Commercial art galleries used to strike fear into me: they were big, empty, echoey spaces with directors waiting to humiliate me with my lack of knowledge. Then one day I visited one and changed my mind. The directors are mostly warm, inspired and passionate people, desperate to tell you everything they know about their exhibitions. For one of the most interesting conversations you’ll have in a working week, start learning about emerging contemporary art at any of the following (if you’re nervous to go alone, take a colleague with you): Hollybush Gardens (1-2 Warner Yard); Eagle Gallery (159 Farringdon Rd – above the pub); DOMOBAAL (3 John Street); Velorose (1B Charterhouse Square). Check opening times before you go. www.hollybushgardens.co.uk; www.emmahilleagle.comwww.domobaal.com; www.velorose.com

9. Savour the local coffee craft
Sometimes all you need is a bit of time to yourself, to muse over a cup of coffee with a copy of your favourite book, magazine or podcast. As you already no doubt know, our area is awash with exceptional coffee joints – at many of which you’ll find a copy of The Clerkenwell Post to peruse, of course. My top haunts include Ask For Janice on Long Lane, Brill on Exmouth Market and Prufrock Cofee on Leather Lane. www.askforjanice.co.uk and www.prufrockcoffee.com

Laura Archer is patrons manager at the Museum of London. She is currently developing a series of corporate workshops based around lunch breaks and wellbeing. Visit www.goneforlunch.com. “Gone for Lunch: 52 Things to do in your Lunch Break” is published by Quadrille, £8