Dragon Café Case Study
The Dragon Café was set up in 2012, by the charity, Mental Fight Club (MFC). MFC
was founded in 2003 by Sarah Wheeler, to celebrate her emergence from yet
another long period of depression. Over the years MFC developed into a community
of around 200 people, who gathered together twice a year to put on creative events.
The café emerged as part of Mental Fight Club. Every Monday since 2012 (except
August) the café has popped up in the crypt of St George the Martyr’s Church on
Borough High St, London SE1. The day begins at midday, and ends at 8:30PM,
during which time there are a whole range of activities on offer, from Tai-Chi to
dancing, gardening to yoga. No two Mondays are the same, and many of the
workshops offered throughout the day are run by volunteers or have been requested
by regular café attendees.
The café is open to everyone. On average 200 people will visit the café on a
Monday. While 60% of those who come along have been service users in the past 3
years, the other 40% have not; they might be people from the surrounding offices
who drop by for lunch, or others who want to soak up the warm and welcoming
atmosphere. This welcoming atmosphere is integral to what the café provides; it’s a
space for everyone to feel secure, welcomed, allowing them the chance to connect
with others and be creative, without any pressure so to do.
The café enjoys a great deal of support from local CCGs. In 2013 Southwark CCG
awarded Mental Fight Club £40k a year in return for the encouragement of MFC
members and Dragon Café patrons to input into various commissioning processes.
Maudsley & Guy’s & St Thomas’ Charities provided the funding for its first two years.
The café costs around £150k a year to run, which equates to approximately £15/per
person/ per visit. The café has six paid staff, who organise the workshops and
events, do the cooking, coordinate the volunteers and create a welcoming
atmosphere. The staff are supported by around 30-40volunteers, who work in four
hours shifts to support the activities throughout the 12 hour day.
Since opening, the café has collected feedback and evaluation in a number of ways.
Six months after opening, there was a formal evaluation conducted by the Service
User Research Enterprise f. In 2013, the café conducted its own feedback process,
with a simple two-question questionnaire. More recently, the Southwark Quality
Champions visited and interviewed patrons.
Commissioners also visit the café once a month to conduct focus groups with the
patrons on any aspect of service provision in Southwark, and groups from the café
have attended a local stakeholder day. Sarah Wheeler, the café’s founder, also sits
on steering groups for local services, and has run a GP training event.
There is no formal process of referral to the Dragon Café, everyone is welcome to
drop by but many local services, including GPs, signpost people to it.
The café does a great deal to normalise discussions around mental health, to create
spaces where people can interact with one another, and to facilitate creative thought
and reflection. In the past, for example, the café has hosted a “We Need To Talk
About…”discussion series on topics as diverse as friendship, psychiatric ward design
; Handel’s music and emotion, purpose and meaning, birdsong, anger and stigma.
There is also a great deal of vibrancy and celebration embedded in what the café
offers. As well as dance and music groups, a ten person dragon, made at the café
two years ago, is brought out on special occasions, and paraded around the Café
and the church, often to the accompaniment of samba drummers.