A Place to Be.
Written by Alice Davis
“We’re here for people just to be,” says Sarah Parris, Centre Manager at CentrePeace in Paignton. The drop-in community support centre and café opened eight years ago after a group of friends decided the town needed an inclusive space where anyone could go for advice, support, or simply a friendly face and an affordable cup of tea.
Since launching they have discovered many people locally who are socially isolated, and often struggling with anxiety and low self-esteem. CentrePeace gives them a safe space to meet and make friends, with a welcoming team of staff and volunteers on hand to look out for anyone who is new or nervous. Prices for food and drink haven’t gone up since the café opened, and a number of regulars have their main meal there every day.
The centre also offers a range of services such as free access to computers, crisis support and counselling. Pre-pandemic it hosted other groups and services too, including Citizens Advice drop-in sessions and ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) classes. The aim is for these to return when possible.
Around Devon there are a number of similar community hubs and cafes – with more in the pipeline – and they play an increasingly important role in giving people somewhere they feel connected and accepted. It’s all too easy to become isolated, whatever your background or stage of life, and often just having a place to be around other people can make all the difference.
In Exmouth, Christian charity Open Door runs a community café that serves food and drink at affordable prices alongside a team of volunteers ready to listen and chat. Trained support workers can give advice on issues such as addiction and domestic abuse. Open Door also offers a free counselling service and showers and other facilities for people who are homeless. The café recently introduced a pay what you feel scheme, where customers leave anonymous donations in a box. “We’re encouraging those who support us to give generously while those who are struggling can eat for nothing,” says Tim Chappell, Deputy Projects Director.
It’s a safe place where everyone is welcome, whether they just want to have a coffee or need a bit more of a helping hand. Similarly, in Newton Abbot, No Limits Café & Hub offers young people with additional needs supported work experience, internships and employment. The not-for-profit was set up by Sarah Thorpe and Amanda Pugh, who were aware from personal experience that employment opportunities for adults with additional needs are limited and wanted to address this. But the café serves the wider community too. It’s a social and information hub for a range of community groups. And it aims to be fully accessible – physically, financially and from a communication and sensory point of view. There are menus in Braille, a hearing loop is installed and the café is Makaton and autism-friendly.
No Limits is also affiliated with the Rees Foundation, which supports care experienced people. The Rees Guest Card gives people who have been in care a discount on food and drink at the cafe. And staff are trained mental health first aiders, so the café is a safe, social space for individuals who may otherwise lack a support network. Because sometimes a cup of tea and a friendly face can make a world of difference.
If you would like to find a community hub near you we have compiled a comprehensive (but by no means exhaustive) list below. Maybe you feel inspired to set one up in your local area – the government’s Community Ownership Fund helps community groups buy or take over local assets at risk of being lost. Or if you already have a project that needs some extra funding, take a look at our Community Grants.
Community cafes, hubs and pubs:
The Waffle House – Axminster
The Hub on the Strand – Barnstaple (in development)
Station Tearooms – Crediton
Horsebox Café – Exeter
Sidwell Street Cafe – Exeter
Sylvania Community Stores and Café – Exeter (in development)
ParkLife Heavitree Community Hub and Café – Exeter (in development)
Wellbeing Exeter has a list of community cafes in Exeter here
Open Door Café – Exmouth
The Bridge Community Cafe – Ivybridge
Tally Ho – Littlehempston Community Pub
No Limits Café – Newton Abbot
CentrePeace – Paignton
Crafty Fox Café n Hub – Paignton
The Art House – South Brent
Pay What You Feel Lunches – Totnes and Newton Abbot
Photos courtesy of CentrePeace and No Limits Cafe & Hub