Friendship Café is based in the Barton & Tredworth / Coney Hill wards of Gloucester. We’re a registered charity that provides a place for community and youth activities, and we also run St James’ City Farm & Riding school. It’s all about bringing people together and creating inclusive opportunities through the many groups that meet in the Friendship Café, such as knit and natter, Fair Shares workshops, boxing, archery, the coffee shop, day trips and much more.
How has your organisation and the people you work alongside been affected over the last 3 months?
There’s certainly been a lot of confusion and uncertainty, as nobody was sure at first what to do and how to do it. The Friendship Café decided to close and suspend most of our regular activities when the lockdown began. We wanted to adapt to the need in the area, as we are here for the community. People from the area organised themselves and came together to create a street rep scheme; there are 102 streets in the area, so that’s a lot of volunteers all coordinating through social media. They distribute leaflets and organise support for anyone on their street who needs it, such as food and meal deliveries, and we are helping with this effort. One worker stopped her usual sewing classes and got volunteers making PPE instead. We filled the Friendship Café with donated supplies from locals as well as supermarkets, and the street reps come to collect and distribute it. We also have two kitchens here, so we have been working with Fair Shares, Black Elders and others to cook about 300 hot meals each week for the local community. We’ve found that a lot of our established connections have been invaluable at this time, and we’ve also forged many new connections too. I have to stress that Friendship Café hasn’t been working alone – it’s lots of different people and organisations getting together, so credit to everybody – it’s not something that one person or group can work alone on.
Have you learned anything or been surprised by anything during this time?
We have learned how to adapt and how useful it is to have a central base to work from. If there was no community centre, I don’t know how we could have done this work. Having people dedicated to working in the community and an established network has meant we can quickly and effectively work together. We have to be prepared and make sure that the people and structure of the community are supported, and that we are constantly bringing in new people to keep that support going into the future.
The pandemic has also forced us to progress in ways that we had only thought about in principle before, for example setting up the community kitchen. A funder has paid for a commercial dishwasher for us, and from then on the kitchens were ready and there was no reason not to, and we are now an important part of the local community, offering food for those who need it most. In the future we want to offer more food-based activities to bring people together, as lots of people are lonely and need someone to talk to. This is certainly the beginning of a new offering, and we want to keep it going after the pandemic too.
How will the money from Gloucestershire Funders be used by your organisation?
We need to keep the Friendship Café up and running, and we also have to make up for the loss of income from the Café and groups renting the space. The funding helps keep the building open, clean, lit, insured, and ensure that a custodian can keep working here. At this time of big uncertainties, the funding gives reassurance to us.
Are you still fundraising? How can people support your organisation?
Yes, we are continually fundraising to keep the Friendship Café and St James City Farm running. We welcome one-off donations, but we are asking our supporters to consider setting up a monthly donation via direct debit, which will mean that we are more stable and less reliant on one-off grants and donations. If anyone would like to donate, the Friendship Café and St James City Farm have sections on the websites for this. We also have a Facebook page, which is the best place to keep up to date with all of our goings on.
Finally, we also accept donations of materials for the sewing group to use once they are able to meet again, and food donations for the local community. We also welcome the donation of time and skills – if you feel you have something you can offer us, then please do get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org