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Cafe Alive at Grange URC


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One of the 'It Just Works" mission projects of things that are having great impact within the United Reformed Church.

Published in: Spiritual
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Cafe Alive at Grange URC

  1. 1. CAFÉ ALIVE • The Setting Southcote is a mixed estate of ex council properties, new builds, high rise and emergency housing blocks. There is a mixed age range of occupants from those who came to the estate when it was first built in the 50’s and have seen their children leave, young families from other parts of Reading and those new to Britain never mind Reading. There are few amenities on the estate. It has a library under threat of closure, a small community centre and three churches; there was a pub but that is now demolished and replaced by flats. There used to be a café, run by the Christians on the estate, where people could find fellowship and advice as well as food and drink, but that was forced to close as the council wanted the premises back. Then there was nothing!
  2. 2. Round and about the estate.
  3. 3. More of our neighbours.
  4. 4. CAFÉ ALIVE • Not New The idea of inviting the local community in for coffee is not new. Churches are experts at coffee mornings etc. Grange has a preschool which meets in their building and they had tried to attract the parents to a mid-week coffee morning with no success. So what made “Café Alive” work? Although we were pleased to have the Pre-School using our halls, it did limit the way we could use our building for mission and outreach during term time. But the sanctuary was empty most of the week. Could we use that?
  5. 5. • Why did it Work? On a neighbouring estate, a local church had started an afterschool café in their church, attracting parents and children as they passed on their way home from school. We realised that we were in a similar situation, with a primary school just round the corner, Pre-School in our halls, a doctors’ surgery opposite us and a secondary school up the hill. But we were a small church with limited resources – few members under 70, no children but a relatively modern building. When the local pub closed down it was discovered that a covenant had been placed on the land which meant the council had to use some of the funds raised on its sale to benefit the community. A meeting was held and the community asked what the money should be spent on. A café was high up on the list. There was no way the council could fund or staff a café, nor could they provide a venue even with an improved community centre. After much prayer and discussion, the congregation decided that they were willing for the building to be used, but we couldn’t do it on our own. With the backing of the other two churches on the estate, we started planning.
  6. 6. Grange URC – This is us! First we would have to find out if it were feasible! It would require finance, space, renovations and volunteers, all of which were forthcoming
  7. 7. Southcote ALIVE We already had an informal alliance with the other two churches in Southcote, under the banner ‘Southcote Alive’. We had done many things together such as Good Friday ‘Walks of Witness’, ‘Carols in the Square’ and other outreach events, and also had Prayer tents and BBQ’s at Southcote May Fayres. They were happy to join with us, so forming a planning group was relatively easy.
  8. 8. CAFÉ ALIVE • Grants Reading Borough Council offered grants called ’Your Community your Cash’ to local estates for community projects. We applied for one and the café was voted for by a large majority of Southcote residents at their May Fayre. We also received grants from Springboard, a charity which gives grants to churches working together on community projects. Other grants were received from Sovereign Housing, several local churches and a very generous grant from Wessex Synod, with the offer of a loan if we needed it. We also had coffee mornings and other fundraising events ourselves. As the café progressed, we realised more alterations were needed, the first priority being an accessible toilet. We were really fortunate in getting a Capital Building Works grant of £10,000 from Reading Borough Council. This was amazing and we were able to get the work done.
  9. 9. CAFÉ ALIVE • Finding Space Space was made by selling the organ situated at the back of the sanctuary. Some of the congregation were not too happy about that, but were somewhat appeased when it was sold to a Parish Organist from North Denmark. He, his daughter and a friend drove over here and dismantled it, getting filthy in the process. They then went to our minister’s home for a shower and a meal, before driving it back to Denmark. He has since sent us emails showing it reassembled and even hearing it playing!
  10. 10. CAFÉ ALIVE • Working Together
  11. 11. To change the sanctuary into a café, the church chairs have to be moved to the sides and pushed together and tables and chairs arranged in the space formed..
  12. 12. CAFÉ ALIVE •Working Together
  13. 13. The dais at the front of the church is cleared completely, the communion table is moved, covered over and then becomes the site for bagatelle and other interesting games. The bagatelle originally belonged to an 84 year old church member when he was a boy. They love it, and the top score of the afternoon wins a free cake! Plenty of other games are also provided.
  14. 14. When all the preparation work is done we stop for a time of prayer before the café doors are opened and the sign put out.
  15. 15. CAFÉ ALIVE • Beginnings
  16. 16. Initially the café opened one afternoon a week. As well as café seating and a safe place for children to play, we sell Fairtrade coffee, speciality teas, hot chocolate, milkshakes, and squash. Homemade cakes are served, provided by each church on a rota basis. As well as the toys, we do craft with the children, based on different bible stories. The old wooden doors at the front of the church were replaced with new glass doors after we had been open a while. These were a godsend when we had babies and toddlers in the church on Thursday mornings as well. We could keep the doors closed to keep them and the warmth in, but it still looked welcoming from the outside.
  17. 17. CAFÉ ALIVE • How it works Almost all volunteers have been endorsed by our three local churches though one does come from a church from another part of the town. In order to keep our Christian emphasis we have not sought volunteers from elsewhere. We have one volunteer as manager who organises the rotas and content of the children’s work, ensures paper work is done and checks the stock.
  18. 18. We have a team of about 20 volunteers from the three churches, almost half being from Grange. They help to set up and clear away at the end, man the coffee bar, clear tables and work with the children. We really need a minimum of 9 each week to man the café effectively.
  19. 19. Soon we had to buy more tables and chairs!
  20. 20. We started initially on Wednesday afternoons, but before a year was up, the mums were asking us to open on another morning a week. We can manage with less helpers for that as we only use the rear part of the sanctuary and don’t do so much with the children.
  21. 21. On Thursday mornings we only did drinks and biscuits initially, with a few cakes left over from the day before. Then we had the idea of serving toast as many of the mums come in straight from dropping their children off at school. Often they have not had time to feed themselves. It went down very well. We quickly went from a 2 slice toaster to a 4 and then a 6, which was actually a commercial version and much faster.
  22. 22. CAFÉ ALIVE • “Success” The Wednesday afternoon Café Alive was a resounding success straight away, and the children couldn’t wait to get in there. It gets busier every week! It was made clear right from the start that it was not a crèche, the parents were responsible for their own children.
  23. 23. We have been told it is the ‘happening place to be’ and are missed over the summer when for the health of our volunteers we are forced to close. One very pregnant young mum told me it was her best afternoon of the week. She could sit back and relax with a cup of great coffee, while her sons played happily without fighting.
  24. 24. They have told us that they really appreciate the kindly willing service they receive.
  25. 25. We find time to talk to people who voluntarily walk through our church doors.
  26. 26. Thursday morning – a different arrangement of the building, but more geared up to the little ones. The mums really enjoy their toast and chat!
  27. 27. On the till! Within the first year, all loans were repaid.
  28. 28. We all muck in together, sharing all the jobs. Most of us did a Food Safety course and exam and most of us are DBS checked.
  29. 29. A group of older people are always the first to arrive and settle themselves in this corner. We thought at first they were coming when it was quiet and would go when it got noisier. No way! We have to kindly persuade them to leave when we are trying to clear up!
  30. 30. We do craft activities with a Bible story theme for the children. We tried stories , but they didn’t really want to just sit down when coming in straight from school. They do like trying a helper’s guitar and sometimes sing or dance.
  31. 31. All are welcome to try our cakes, including dogs for the disabled!
  32. 32. We have frames on each table that we can place small notices in and are currently exploring how we can display more Christian posters on the walls.
  33. 33. Playtime after school. The frieze on the wall was done in the craft sessions in the first term.
  34. 34. Cappuccino or Latte? Our baristas at work.
  35. 35. . Thursday morning again. At one point the numbers were rather low and we thought we might have to discontinue Thursdays. When we mentioned it to the mums they were quite upset. They all took photos of the whole setup, including the price list and put it out on Facebook! The numbers picked up straight away, and we’re not talking about closing anymore. We also have a bereavement support group which meet in the Café on the first Thursday of each month. We did experiment with music but it didn’t work (too much noise). We are discussing potential evangelistic events using the café but this is only in its infancy.
  36. 36. CAFÉ ALIVE • Conclusion I suppose to sum up. The café is ecumenism truly working. It is the Christian community using its resources to meet a community need. Using its resources in order to serve the community God has set us in. It’s working together to express our faith through service. Building up our credibility, forming the relationship with those around us in which we can share our faith through actions; making the church accessible. Has it made a difference numerically to our congregation; not yet. Has it made a difference? Most assuredly! The ease in which the café has come about. The willing volunteers, the cake suppliers, the numbers coming to the café have given us an assurance that God is at work. The sense of excitement is palpable. It has brought the three churches closer together and we have become more of a valued and recognised part of our community; they know we are there and that our faith matters to us..