Meet the woman sharing her passion for Madrid’s forgotten corners

When Leah Pattem began her blog Madrid No Frills with just ten, short articles, she had no idea that in three years, it would capture so many people’s hearts.

Meet the woman sharing her passion for Madrid's forgotten corners
Leah Pattem, the woman behind Madrid No Frills, has plans to grow the project. Photo: MNF

The Local sits down and talks to Leah,  a regular contributer to The Local, about her new crowd-funding project, which she hopes will launch Madrid No Frills from a growing blog to a fully-fledged, online publication. 

Leah is known by her friends and followers for going against the grain, which she admits doesn’t always make sense to others. The best example of this is her blog. While most Madrid bloggers promote the coolest new restaurant to hit the foodie scene, Leah focusses on the unfairly neglected side of Madrid, telling stories that can regularly get a ‘love’, ‘crying’ or ‘angry reaction’ on Facebook.

“Cherish what you’ve got before it’s gone”, says Leah, echoing the concept of her blog, which her personality clearly underpins. “It’s about looking into the future and imagining the world that you want. If you like how it looks, then do your best to make that happen. Realise the power you have to influence this and encourage others to act too: whether it’s buying a caña in your struggling neighbourhood bar or having a conversation about freedom of expression. These are all valuable paths to a future we want”.

Many of the stories covered by Madrid No Frills have had a lasting impact on their subjects. Photos: MNF

Leah’s work regularly has a visible impact on Madrid. When she publishes an article about a bar or restaurant, a hundred more people may suddenly turn up that week. That rush of customers might be enough for the owner to pay the bills for another month, and the customers who keep going back will likely sustain them for potentially even years to come.

It’s not just struggling bars that are grateful for Leah’s work. She tells us that she often receives messages from her followers thanking her for fighting their corner, and for showing others how easy it is to fight for what you believe in. And it’s this reaction that Leah clearly thrives on. 

“I know it’s working – I can see it – but I’m still seeing places close down and people being evicted every month. The Madrid that I fell in love with six years ago has never been more vulnerable.” This is why Leah has decided to up her game, as she says. “Madrid needs me and my audience!” Leah dreams of being able to spend more time on Madrid No Frills so that she can investigate more stories, share more of her work and reach more people.

When it comes to earning a living, here’s another example of Leah going against the grain: she refuses to monetise her blog. In fact, she tells us that she has never even received a freebie.

“It’s fine if people want to make money through their blog, but it’s not for me. For three years, I’ve written and shared what I want, and I don’t want that to change. I want to stay completely independent and be free to tell unfiltered stories, just as I always have. I want only the people who love what I do to support me.”

“I’d feel so stressed if I’d written an article about a sensitive topic, thinking, will my sponsor be ok with everything I’ve said in this? Because I often say things that are a little controversial.”

It’s for this reason that Leah has decided to launch a community-based crowd-funding project on Patreon, where she knows that only those who truly believe in what she’s doing are the ones supporting her. In return, Leah has created three very cool rewards for her Patrons: access to behind-the-scenes content, a secret series of travel articles, and a map of all locations she’s ever discovered in Madrid (think 138 no-frills bars, 63 restaurants, 42 real Madrid gems and 15 abandoned buildings).

These rewards may be a highly sought-after thank you gift to anyone who donates to her, but the real rewards are there for everyone to enjoy: “more stories, more hidden gems and more support for Madrid’s little guys – the ones me and my audience are turning up the volume for!”

It’s been just a few days since Leah launched her Patreon page. When we ask her how it’s gone so far, she puts both hands on her heart. “I’ve cried in awe of every single one of the people who have given me their hard-earned money. And already, I’ve received enough donations to be able to spend an extra two days per month on Madrid No Frills! In addition to weekends and evenings, I’ve gone from writing four articles per month to being able to write six, plus many more little extras on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. This means everything to me and to Madrid’s underdogs – the ones I now have two extra days per month to share stories about!”

As a freelancer, Leah is able to shift her work around, and her dream is to be able to spend a few days per week working on Madrid No Frills. “Imagine if one new article per week became ten and saving dozens of local gems became hundreds! Imagine if I could share more hard-hitting stories from victims of gentrification, racism, homophobia and exploitation. I can do this, but not without the help of my audience.”

After going viral in January, Leah’s blog has captured the hearts of an entire nation, and many of us are watching, excited to see what her next moves are. Speaking of which, we ask her if she has anymore plans to grow Madrid No Frills.

“Yes!” Leah says excitedly. “But I’m saving that behind-the-scenes information for my Patrons to discuss with me over a caña.”

The team at The Local wish Leah the best of luck with Madrid No Frills. If you’d like to follow, and indeed support her work, visit her Patreon page and enjoy one of her very exciting rewards (the Map is our favourite).  

READ MORE: IN PICS: How one British woman revived Spain's love for its own no frill bars 

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Cañada Real: Madrid’s shantytown where residents are living without electricity

On October 2nd, a power outage left around 1,000 houses in a Madrid neighbourhood without electricity, writes Leah Pattem of Madrid No Frills.

Cañada Real: Madrid's shantytown where residents are living without electricity
Temporary, self-built shelters in the Cañada. Photo: Madrid No Frills

Almost 60 days later, the lines have still not been repaired – a situation that seems hard to believe, except for the fact that this neighbourhood is Sector 6 of the Cañada Real in Madrid.

The Cañada Real © @vallecasva

The Cañada Real is an unofficial, 16km-long linear settlement whose origins date back more than half a century. Residents have been arriving to this ancient cattle trail for generations, building makeshift homes and raising families. This winding settlement, which bends southbound around the outskirts of the city (parallel to the M-50 motorway) is a place almost every madrileño knows exists, but few know the reality.

Also known as ‘the Unpaved Cañada’, it remains Madrid’s forgotten neighbourhood and is a blind spot in the council’s responsibilities to its almost 3,000 residents. Their life expectancy is years lower than their paved neighbours in the city, where, two weeks ago, the residents marched for their rights. Signs read: “Electricity is not a luxury, it’s a right”, “I’m sick of surviving, I just want to live”, and “Who told you that there was marihuana in my house?”

Protest at Cibeles on Nov 17 © #404 Comunicación Popular

The last sign is the discriminative narrative that haunts Sector 6 residents, because their neighbourhood is where the biggest drug dealing area in Western Europe is located. Over 12,000 doses are sold a day here, yet only 180 residents are registered drugs users, most of whom receive no help and sleep in tents on the side of the unpaved road.

The narrative run by many newspapers – national and international – is that a growing number of cannabis farms caused a surge in the electricity supply to Sector 6, causing the outage. Yet the electricity supply to the city of Madrid runs without a glitch when thousands of Christmas lights around the city are switch on every night. The stigma associated with the Cañada is unrelenting thanks to media bias, but it’s wrong.

Of the 3,000 people who live in Sector 6 of the Cañada Real, 1,211 of them a children. For almost two months, they have been doing their homework in candlelight, and those who are quarantined can’t access computers or internet.

Parents can’t cook for their families let alone store fresh food, and their only way of keeping warm is by burning rubbish outside. Clothes are washed by hand over a laundry grill – something the modern world long left behind – and people bath in cold water whenever they can bear it.

A view from the Cañada towards Rivas. Photo: Madrid No Frills

Aside from the ongoing and worsening physical traumas Sector 6 residents are experiencing, their mental health is deteriorating, for the children especially. Two weeks ago, the Oficina del Alto Comisionado de las Naciones Unidas asked some Sector 6 children to draw or write how they felt about the loss of electricity to their neighbourhood.

Drawing of a star-lit sky and the sad family of Taisgir, a five-year-old boy living in Sector 6 of the Cañada. Because there is no light in the
Cañada at night, the stars in the sky are more visible.




“Electricity is a right, not a privilege.“

I need electricity to study, to listen, to heat. We are so cold.

Nizar is five years old.


“We want light”

“Hello, I’m called Malak El Harrak El Assouad, I’m 7 years old and I live in the Cañada Real Galiana at 65F. Please let us have light. It’s so cold, breakfast is sad and cold.“


Sector 6 of the Cañada Real is a shanty town and therefore an unofficial neighbourhood in Madrid, yet three years ago, the local government promised the relocation of its long-term residents – a promise that appears to have no deadline.

In all of the Cañada’s history, this is its most brutal moment. The Covid-19 pandemic combined with the economic plummet for those surviving below the poverty line was enough to deal with, but now there is also no electricity for the foreseeable future, nor the fulfilment of the promise to be moved into social housing.

Fatima, 33, grew up in the Cañada Real. Her husband and father built the family home by hand, which her three young children have begun to question more than ever before, asking, “Why can’t we just move?”

The answer that Fatima gives her children when they ask why they can’t just move is simply, “I’m sorry. We can’t”, withholding the explanation that she knows they’ll soon enough learn: discrimination.

Fatima created the Instagram account saying, “All I ask is that you help us raise awareness of the power cut to the Cañada.” Also sign this petition on demanding the return of electricity to Cañada Sector 6 residents.

Please follow Fatima, share this story and sign the petition until the electricity lines are rightfully repaired because in a country that calls itself a modern democracy, electricity is not a privilege, it’s a right.

This article is by Leah Pattem, the founder of Madrid No Frills, an independent Madrid-based platform for under-reported stories from underrepresented communities.

To discover stories that reveal the grittier, real side of Spain's capital, follow her on Facebook and Instagram and support  the Patreon page