Buddying up and being heard

Places of Welcome are safe spaces for everyone to belong, connect and contribute. They can be a lifeline for people struggling with loneliness, ill health, anxiety or depression.

“Our policy is that no-one sits alone. We get to know people and we care,” says Jane Quinn, who co-hosts St Martin’s Church Community Café Place of Welcome in Walsall, West Midlands.

Those who volunteer get a lot of out of it as well,Jane adds. They look forward to coming and volunteering because they’re getting the chance to actually give back and get to know everyone in their group.”

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Many local churches can't provide vital services like Places of Welcome without our support.

Every Thursday, around 50 local people get together for hot drinks and toast and to chat with their neighbours at the Community Café Place of Welcome at St Martin’s Church in Walsall. The community café opened in 2007 and reopened as a Place of Welcome after the pandemic.

Jane Quinn and Helen Murray organise a team of volunteers who serve hot drinks and toast (fruit toast is the favourite), and shop for the café each week. The café serves an estate of bungalows and houses in a community where lots of mainly older people live alone, sometimes not speaking to anyone from one week to the next.

Along with their team leaders, they helped reopen the café, joining the Places of Welcome network to help people get together regularly and benefit from being part of the community.

They noticed that lots of people would walk past St Martin’s Church and the halls on their way to the local Co-op, and that they were perfectly placed to gather these people together.

“We make sure everyone is welcomed at the door with a warm, friendly smile” says Jane. “People can come somewhere warm, have something to eat, free of charge and make friends.”

Once people arrive, they’re served tea, coffee or hot chocolate, and toast, biscuits or sometimes cake, giving volunteers the chance to chat and find out how people are by serving at the tables.

Buddy service

Word of mouth often brings people through the door, but carers also get in touch to find out what support is on offer. The team can provide a one-to-one buddy service, where a single volunteer meets a community member outside the venue each week, and accompanies them into the café to sit with them and chat. This happens each week for up to six weeks, or until the client is confident enough to come in on their own.

The team supported one customer to cross the street to the café. When he arrived for the first time and sat with a regular group, he discovered that the man to his left lived just on the corner, right by his bungalow, but they’d never met. They made plans to meet again the following week.

Many of the café’s volunteers started off as customers. “They know what it’s like to be on their own. And they get a lot of out of it as well," says Jane. They look forward to coming and volunteering because they’re getting the chance to actually give back, and get to know everyone in their group.”

Local intel

The team often provides activities during the café, and people chat about the local area. They share local information, such as where the hairdresser’s is, or the best place to get the bus. “We sing happy birthday to people if we know it’s their birthday, as they might not hear it from anyone else,” says WHO.

They also welcome visitors: local Walsall councillors hold their surgery at the cafe on the first week of every month, Walsall White Watch fire crew offered free fire safety checks for people’s homes, and NHS reps attend to speak and listen to community members so that their needs and views are heard. The café also welcomes members of the Community Garden who pop in for refreshments, as well as members of the Bereavement Group.

Jane has seen an increase in numbers in the colder months, and sometimes wraps up toast for them to take home if needed.

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