Mark Gallagher from the North Ayrshire Drug and Alcohol Partnership, describes the amazing impact of the ‘Café Solace’ project, a local café, delivered by volunteers in recovery from alcohol and other drug problems, currently provided within three localities in North Ayrshire, Scotland.
This project provides volunteering opportunities, helps local people increase their skills and confidence, and improves connections with vital support services. But Café Solace does so much more too. Across three of the North Ayrshire’s most deprived communities, it’s now served up over 9,000 low cost, home cooked nutritious meals to local residents, created a successful community hub, and brought people together to increase social contact and reduce isolation and stigma. By giving people in recovery help and hope, and by inspiring communities to take action, it is reaching many people who may not engage with ‘traditional’ services.
That’s because this approach is firmly based on what local communities themselves said they need. North Ayrshire is an area with high levels of food poverty and is ranked the 4th most deprived local authority area in Scotland. At the same time, people in recovery recognised they needed a way to build new skills and give back to their communities locally.
By bringing these two needs together, Café Solace was born. It embodies what can be achieved by taking a whole population approach to the challenges and opportunities that communities face. Through hard work, listening, local partnership and a staff of volunteers, a three course home cooked meal is provided for just £1.70. In addition, by bringing together a range of vital public services under one roof, it’s improving the health and wellbeing of some of North Ayrshire’s most hard to reach residents.
The project has had some fantastic feedback from local people:
“I really appreciate the hospitality shown to me at the Café Solace. The food is very good and the staff are very friendly and helpful. The standards are very high and I look forward to a wholesome cooked meal.”
“A welcoming atmosphere, friendly volunteers, great service. Given the current climate of austerity, something badly needed. Ticks all the boxes…”
As well as the benefits to the local community, Cafe Solace has supported volunteers in their own recovery journey. Approximately 80 people have taken part in skills development courses, which included gaining a REHIS food hygiene certificate, accessing Naloxone training, team building and communication. Amongst the myriad of positive outcomes include increased confidence, reduction in anxiety, improved communication skills and better social networks, thereby opening up new opportunities for employment, education and volunteering.
In the words of one Volunteer “I came to Café Solace as a customer for a year, I loved it that much I started volunteering. I’ve become more confident and I can socialise more. The other volunteers are like family, if I need to talk to someone they are there to help. The customers are right behind what we do. If it was not for Café Solace I don’t know where I would be. So Café Solace has been a life line as well as a place to meet new people.”
The project has won numerous plaudits from the Care Inspectorate, local and national politicians, and beyond for its creativity, innovation and impressive impact on partnership working. The team has produced a video about their approach and what it means to them.
The volunteers don’t intend to stop there. Plans are now being explored to establish Café Solace as a community owned company, with the potential to have its own premises and expand to offer a wider range of outside catering and other hospitality services.
One of the benefits of this approach is that is can be rolled out in other communities too.