Yaya’s Shack: an oasis of calm in the heart of Derry’s Brandywell area

Karen and Andre Johnston, proprietors of Yaya's Shack caf� in the Gasyard Centre,
Karen and Andre Johnston, proprietors of Yaya's Shack caf� in the Gasyard Centre,

A couple who lost their teenage daughter to cancer have seen the social enterprise café they set up in her memory become a great success.

With funding from the Housing Executive, Yaya’s Shack was established almost a year ago by Andre and Karen Johnston at the Gasyard Centre.

Yaya Johnston.

Yaya Johnston.

Their daughter, Alexandra, nicknamed Yaya, was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer (Ewing’s Sarcoma) in January 2013 and was given just months to live.

However, against the odds, she led a full life until she passed away, aged just 16, in January 2018.

In memory of their daughter, Andre and Karen set up ‘Just Keep Swimming Yaya’, a registered charity aimed at supporting fathers and families affected by a cancer diagnosis.

They wanted to share their cancer journey and provide a listening ear for people who may have similar experiences.

A lease for a coffee shop then became available at the Gasyard Centre and Andre and Karen decided to open a café named ‘Yaya’s Shack,’ a fitting way to remember their daughter.

As they have extensive knowledge of the catering industry (Andre was head chef in a local hotel before Alexandra became ill), they serve top notch food in a café with a lovely atmosphere.

When Yaya’s Shack was starting out, the Housing Executive was able to provide funding through its Social Housing Enterprise initiative, allowing the couple to acquire the necessary kitchen equipment to get set up.

Karen Johnston says: “By providing us with £1,000 funding to purchase kitchen equipment at the outset, the Housing Executive has enabled us to provide a social enterprise cafe that has been well received in the local community.

“We’re delighted that our business has been successful so far and we’re also delighted that we can help people going through difficult times when they or someone in their family is ill.”

You can visit their website: www.justkeepswimmingyaya.com or contact them on Facebook at @Justkeepswimmingyaya or on Twitter: @SwimmingYaya.