'We aim to be a cafe with a difference'
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Thurso Community Café is more than just a coffee shop – it is also a place of support for all.
Formerly known as Café Tempest, it has taken on a new role as a social enterprise seeking to bring people together and it is proving popular with the public.
Café Tempest stopped trading in September 2018, but there was a quick turnaround with Thurso Community Café officially opening for business just one week later.
The running of the café at Thurso harbour by Ann Brock, sister Louise MacInnes and their retired mum, Christine MacInnes, from behind the scenes, remained the same.
But Ann said they "felt called to do something to help the community" and the emphasis is on creating positive change.
"We are aiming to be a café with a difference at the heart of the community intent on bringing positive change to the area," she said. "We want to bring together all members of the community to help those at risk of isolation and social disadvantage and people going through challenging times."
Originally, the idea was that the café would be run by two people, as the owners were unsure about how popular it would be. They designed the project so that it could be managed by as few volunteers as possible.
As soon as it opened, however, more volunteers wanted to join. It was anticipated that older people who fancied a chat with their friends over coffee and cake would be their target, but they found that the café was popular among those more generally who were struggling with isolation or dealing with social problems. Many have since become volunteers.
The café has successfully come out the other end of a trial period, starting during a slower part of the year, and is now "moving forward as a social enterprise", according to Ann.
We are aiming to be a café with a difference at the heart of the community intent on bringing positive change to the area.
As well as providing food and drinks, they are keen to be on hand if someone appears to be in need of help. This may be financially, in which there is a small amount of funds set aside for emergencies, for example if someone is unable to pay for electricity and has run out, but emotional support is also on offer. The café can be seen as a place to go to get out of a crisis, with volunteers ready to talk things through. This does not happen every day, Ann added, but it is a regular occurrence.
The owners had tried running a soup kitchen in the past but felt that it was stereotyped as a concept. They wanted their new venture to be aimed at the whole community, where everyone was in the same boat.
This is why no prices are stipulated and food and drinks are free, with any donations greatly appreciated from those who are able to give. Having the café as the base rather than focusing on the available support has made it easier for those who are in a difficult position, as no-one is aware of other customers' circumstances, Ann explained.
"People are very happy to walk into a café atmosphere – it's a lot easier," she said.
On Mondays the café plays host to Ripples, a community-led organisation, allowing its members to address issues such as addiction, mental health or loneliness in a comfortable environment. Organisers can also point members in the right direction for help and support in other areas if needed.
Every Sunday evening a weekly addiction meeting, Road to Recovery, with Christian backing, is held from 6pm to 7.30pm. Individuals can share their experiences from the week in a supportive setting.
The café has also received backing from other local businesses and individuals, with plenty of help and donations from supermarkets and some churches – with one even making weekly donations.
However, it's also about building meaningful relationships. Ann explained that some of the people who come in have had tough lives. Once friendships have been built, their defences come down and then the community can start helping them.
"Getting to know folk" is also an important part of the work that they do, allowing support to be given in a friendly and relaxed environment. Ann and her mother and sister also have more ideas bubbling in the background but have been waiting to clear the first hurdle before they unveil their plans.
One point that Ann is keen to highlight is that "the café is for everyone – not just people that are struggling".
For those who fancy trying somewhere different for a cup of coffee, or if you are in need of support, Thurso Community Café is open on from Monday to Wednesday, and Friday, from 10am to 2pm.
For more information go to Thurso Community Café's Facebook page.