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It takes a village ​to make a Warm ​Welcome

Community, laughter, and friendship are at the heart of the Friendship Café ​Warm Welcome Space in the small rural village of Alford in Aberdeenshire. It’s a ​partnership approach bringing leaders of St Andrews Episcopal Church together ​with Alford and District Rotary Club and local businesses.

Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland is the volunteer partner for the Warm ​Welcome Spaces campaign 2023/24.

The whole community gets ​involved

Their vibrant space, always full of joy and laughter, is supported by the local ​community – interest and support are growing. The local Co-op has assigned its ​Community Champion to help out; the convenience store donates newspapers ​and ‘butteries’ (Aberdeenshire rolls); local caterers donate individual sweet ​treats; the Rotary club helps with funding, publicity, and transport – (helping the ​Church group which provides a free taxi service to make sure everyone can get ​to the warm space.).

Individual volunteers from the village also offer support by means of cash ​donations, soup, home bakes and other contributions, enhancing the regular ​menus on offer.

Going from strength to ​strength

The project started last year, initiated by St Andrew’s Church, and after a slow ​start began to develop and grow, trying to draw in anyone seeking company, for ​whatever reason, in a warm space where hot food and fellowship are on offer, ​free of charge.

It soon became clear that in order to sustain things, and move onward, the best ​way forward in a small organisation, was to seek partners to share in the ​enterprise. Consequently, and now under the Warm Welcome Campaign banner, ​the Café, run by a small team, together with a group of regular, enthusiastic ​volunteers, is going from strength to strength, with the support of the local ​Rotary Club, and local businesses – everyone is happy to step up and help.

“A small dedicated team runs things, from ​funding to all the behind-the scenes tasks ​necessary to make things happen.”

Buzzing with life and ​celebrations

The Friendship Café is buzzing with life, joy, and celebration – from Christmas ​lunches to Burns’ Night and Valentine’s Day – there-s always something to ​celebrate.

The Café makes the effort to remember regulars’ birthdays; one of the team ​makes a special, personalised card; a birthday cake is supplied, and of course, ​everyone sings! Last week, two regular guests, who discovered that, at 92, they ​shared exactly the same birthday (day and year), were duly recognised.

a group of elderly people sitting at a table blowing out candles on a cake

Two visitors to The Friendship Café enjoy sharing their birthday celebrations together.

Rural challenges

Sometimes there are difficulties to be overcome. A team member explained, ​“We’re based in a small church in a rural setting, and travel can be challenging, ​especially for older people and anyone with mobility issues.”

Alford winters can be long and harsh and people can feel isolated, especially ​when roads and pavements are snow-covered and icy. The Café has a rota of ​volunteers who assist with transport, to make sure no-one misses out. When ​anyone is ill, and cannot attend – a ‘takeaway’ is offered and delivered, to ensure ​the connection is not lost.

A warm welcome for everyone

The Café is truly inclusive, in that everyone is welcome – a group of ‘regulars’ has ​emerged, who have now got to know each other and are now friends. A ​succession of ‘drop-in’ regulars are drawn in, no doubt by the appetising aromas ​of hot soups and home bakes on the cold winter air, and most return from time ​to time.

Local organisations such as the Health Centre, shops and individuals encourage ​anyone they think might benefit, or be interested in what the Café has to offer, to ​try it out.

Everyone receives a warm welcome – this year’s age range of guests runs from a ​ten-month old baby to a ninety-four-year-old lady. Although targeted towards ​helping mental health and rural isolation, everyone comes for their own reasons. ​One lady, who previously had not left her own home for four years, is now a ​regular, and is the official soup taster!

“The Café is truly inclusive, in that ​everyone is welcome.”

Blurring lines

Everyone, guests, and volunteers alike, intermingles – important in the ​Friendship Café vision, is that volunteers sit at tables and chat with everyone, ​sharing the food and the good company. So much so, that lines between hosts ​and guests are blurring with many new friendships being formed. One such, ​perhaps unlikely friendship, is that of a volunteer twenty-year old young man, ​who is neurodivergent, with a ninety-one-year-old lady who is visually impaired. ​They sit together every week, catching up with each other’s news.

Some visitors, keen to make a contribution, have become helpers too, in that ​they provide soups, baking and help in the kitchen, tidying up or just making new ​guests feel at home.

Board games are on hand, and a copy of the local newspaper, in case anyone is ​interested, and, because St. Andrew’s Friendship Café takes place in a church, ​guests are offered a space for quiet contemplation or prayer if they so wish.

a group of people sitting at tables wearing Christmas hats

The Friendship Café brought visitors together over Christmas.

Everyone’s contribution is ​valued

The Café is truly a community project with everyone’s contribution valued. A ​small dedicated team runs things, from funding to all the behind-the scenes ​tasks necessary to make things happen – regularly supported by volunteers from ​the church congregation and from main partners Alford Rotary Club. Although ​the usual rotas are drawn up, in truth, everyone multi-tasks, and mucks in.

It is truly heart-warming to witness the warmth, friendship, mutually caring ​atmosphere, and laughter which have developed, from a formerly disparate ​group of people, many of whom live alone. Being Aberdeenshire, much of the ​conversation is in the native dialect of Doric, and, although there is no direct ​translation of ‘Warm Welcome’, guests are bidden to the table in traditional ​north-eastern way, by ‘Come awa’ in, si’ doon, an’ tak’ aff yer jaiket.’

At the heart of this project lies love and respect for everyone, and a village ​partnership in trying to look after each other. The Friendship Café is thriving – a ​warm welcome is assured – everyone loves it – just read the comments in the’ ​Friends Book!

Selection of quotes from ​the Friends’ Book

  • “Bless your kind hearts”
  • “Thank you chatty Café. Bless you all”
  • “I come here as it gets me out of the house which keeps me sane and keeps ​my mind busy”
  • “I like coming to the Café. Very good and friendly”
  • “Always find something to smile about”
  • “Love is all around in this place”

To find a Warm Welcome Space in your area, or to volunteer at an existing space, ​visit their website.

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