As I reflect on the opening night of Foundations Café on 8th November, there were certainly a range of emotions experienced in what this meant playing a part in supporting the community. The feeling of purpose, meaning and social aspects having been spoken about.
The pool of volunteers is mainly people who have, and currently experience, a number of challenges and barriers. To hear from those who are struggling with personal issues though pushing themselves to volunteering is truly heart-warming, and the positive aspect of what the café means to their value and worth. These are some of the ‘softer’ elements that are not easily measurable though certainly of significant importance in peoples ongoing recovery journey.
I too required a moment prior to opening as dawning on me what had been achieved and where we had reached within such a short space of time; whilst recognising the many hurdles experienced, and grateful to those people and family in supporting me during a particularly challenging period; and to funders believing in the vision, as not possible without their support.
People have become alive in this short period of 6 weeks- it has been a privilege seeing confidence grow, to see relationships develop, & to feel the passion in a group of people wishing to support the communities of East Ayrshire. I am so proud of what everyone has achieved as a team and to witness that teamwork ethos on the opening night was true testament to all involved.
The overriding feeling of the first night was one of immense pride, introducing a new approach where members of the community, services and families engaged. It was particularly pleasing that people from marginalised groups being in attendance, as the ethos is about including the excluded, reducing barriers & developing effective pathways. This may be that stepping stone or springboard to engaging with mainstream services where people begin to feel part of the community.
There were two young people from the local hostel who ‘reluctantly’ came along with a staff member though when leaving they advised of really enjoying the experience. Will see how this develops as recognise the vulnerability of young people and the feeling of community inclusion being a positive factor in their wellbeing.
There was a man supported along by Hospital Navigators. They were very surprised how well he interacted with the volunteers as low in confidence and self-esteem. The staff commenting that volunteers taking the time to chat and offer support created warmth and positive atmosphere. This is an example of peer support value and a connection that will hopefully see relationships develop; knowing this is a welcoming environment. Feedback received from the staff member: ‘Took a guy along to café. Not only did he get a 3 courser for £2 he was shown compassion & kindness. One volunteer gave him his number for future support, another signposted to local projects. Here was an air of altruism. Very touching.’
I also received a volunteer application form from a person who advised of being in early recovery though felt the café was something he would benefit greatly from being involved with and supporting his journey. I have no doubt this will be in no small part being inspired by his peers and the feeling of hope.
It really is quite hard to accurately describe the atmosphere and positivity, as requires seeing it and feeling it to understand and appreciate the uniqueness; where teamwork and camaraderie of 16 volunteers was clear to all, from the welcome, to the ordering, the food, the service, the chat and the general warmth to everyone attending.
I believe there is a need to understand and appreciate the impact of what this approach offers- not only developing the skills and confidence of the volunteers where their wellbeing and self-worth is growing quickly; to reaching people and families where they have the opportunity engaging in a social setting and feeling included, not presented with barriers. This is also an approach challenging stigma and discrimination where people ‘written off’ offering a valuable contribution. Through these community engagement approaches we must consider the range of interventions that will be preventing future demand on reactive services such as police, courts, hospital, and addictions- therefore promotion and encouragement of resources being aligned to a ‘spend to save agenda’.
Wherever there’s a recovery café, there’s a safe and supportive hub where people in recovery can re-build their lives with voluntary opportunities and the power of example that change is possible. This will be developed further in the coming weeks by introducing peer support and thematic groups, and social events.
This is purely the start and have some way to go in building and sustaining the model, hopeful there will be local buy-in where the approach is recognised as an asset to all community members.