Caritas Diocese of Plymouth have recently been collaborating with parishes and associated charitable networks to facilitate the creation of ‘warm spaces’, where a culture of encounter, welcome and solidarity is nurtured and where people can meet up during the cold winter. It is exciting and encouraging that several parishes across the Diocese have already set up community warm spaces! Peter Schranz, from the Saint Vincent De Paul society (SVP) has kindly shared his thoughts about their warm spaces initiative at Sacred Heart parish, Exeter.
Their project is a Chatter Cafe which is open to all and offers free tea, coffee and biscuits on Wednesdays 10-30-12.30 at Sacred Heart Church (lower room) South St in Exeter. The idea for the cafe was motivated by a desire to live out our faith in accordance with Gospel values and the mission of the SVP. SVP aspires to live the Gospel message by serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy, and by working to shape a more just and compassionate society. The Exeter initiative is in its early stages but has already become a beacon for what is possible, on a practical and spiritual level, if parishioners unite and commit to the process. Caritas Diocese of Plymouth manager, Deborah Fisher, hopes that every parish in the Diocese will consider supporting local warm spaces.
Peter and his team have offered some helpful insights to anyone setting up an initiative:
Work with what you have, both in terms of the space you have and also the people in your team. Set out clear aims and expectations. Make sure your team feel valued, supported and involved. Assemble a small resource “toolbox” with laminated instructions, supplies, cash book, contact numbers etc.
Something that has worked really well. “Our priests and the parish team have been very enthusiastic and supportive. The parish office has helped with laminated signage, storage space and disseminating information. Our priests extend an invitation to parishioners at Mass to come down and bring their friends. This helps publicise the cafe as well as encourage new volunteers who can help this grow further as a visible parish outreach project.”
Hopes for the future. “We hope that our Chatter Cafe will provide a safe hub in our city that welcomes anyone who walks past. We hope that as our team grows in confidence and number we can make a tangible difference to anyone we encounter.”
Lessons learnt A few weeks ago, a lady walked into the cafe off the street. She was in a bit of a state, distressed, hungry and agitated. After sitting down with a cup of tea, some soup and a few biscuits she was able to chat and share her distressing story, one of addiction, abuse and mental illness. Though we had biscuits and soup, we did not have any other food to offer and so one team member went to buy her a sandwich while another stayed and chatted until the food arrived. Since this episode, we have now stocked up our small “toolbox” with a local bakery’s gift cards. These can be used to buy sandwiches and hot or cold soft drinks at the local bakers shop, a few yards up the street. We also found out how people can access the food bank. The other lesson Peter shared was “next time don’t leave one person alone with a stranger, though I did not feel I was alone. I think the Holy Spirit was there as well.”
When speaking with Peter there was a palpable sense of the positive impact that the setting up of the chatter café has had on both those who access it and on the volunteers involved. The project is an uplifting and heartening example of faith, hope and love in action and Christian witness in the community. We look forward to hearing more about how the project develops and to share about other new warm spaces in our Diocese!
If you would like to find out more about setting up a chatter cafe or warm space in your community, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
By Caitlin Miller, Communications Assistant.