About three years ago, I was talking with my colleagues about how we might help people who were struggling get back into employment. Yes they will need skills, but most importantly they needed to rediscover their self confidence. At the same time we identified two people in our church, Ollie and Maddie who wanted to open a community Café in St. Paul’s. Could this be an answer to helping people back into employment?
We talked, a lot. We thought about what might be needed to create a Café which required the collaboration of more than one church. We wondered whether this was a one off, or whether there might be many projects that could flourish through collaboration. All along as Christians we prayed.
The answer we arrived at was Fresh Hope (although that name came much later), an umbrella charity, that would facilitate, coordinate and support projects across our communities, to see those communities united and transformed, radiating hope and compassion. At this point the Café more or less went on hold, while we started the process of creating Fresh Hope. First we had to find people to oversee Fresh Hope, having a similar outlook but with a range of skills, coming from across Cheltenham. Many cups of coffee were drunk as we identified our initial trustees, Sue, Richard, Tony, Mike and Ollie (yes the same one). We then started to meet together to consider what would be the purpose of Fresh Hope, what would be the vision and of course what it would be called.
Then came the “boring” bits. We set up Fresh Hope as a company. Got it a bank account. Set it up as a charity and registered it for gift aid. A few words but many months of work and a big thank you to Helen at BPE. Now we needed to do something, and for that we needed money and a project. Time to dust down the plans for the Café.
So we had a location, the old school house in St. Paul’s. We had a name, the School House Café (SHC). But the building needed work, we needed equipment, and we would need staff and volunteers, Maddie is good but she could not run this by herself. In parallel, we spoke to like minded individuals and organisations about funding. We would need enough to do the building work, buy equipment and cover the inevitable losses as the SHC got established. Praise God for the generosity that we have encountered, as we now have enough to do all of this.
In July, Dave started the building work, and today the SHC looks fantastic. The main equipment was installed in the second week of September. Last week we recruited an assistant manager and last Saturday we interviewed 11 potential staff members, offering 7 part time roles by Monday. Tomorrow we launch the marketing of the SHC with a stall at the University of Gloucestershire Freshers Fayre offering coffee tasting. St Paul’s are renovating the toilets in the building which we hope will be ready by the end of September.
And then we are hoping to open, as soon as we can in October, six days a week between 8am and 5pm. But this will not be the end of the process, far from it. We will start to recruit volunteers both for the Café and for the parallel cycle initiative, where we plan to refurbish bikes for sale as well as offering repairs and servicing. In the Café, we hope that the volunteers will undertake a variety of roles including operating the Café alongside staff, undertaking additional activities as part of our objective to bless the St Paul’s community, for example running children’s activities in the adjacent hall while parents have a coffee in the Café, and supervising and supporting those seeking employment experience. This latter group are likely start in the Café and with the cycling initiative early in 2017.
As I reflect on Fresh Hope and the School House Café, I am reminded of the time when we were expecting our first child. All of our thoughts and attention was on the birth, but with hindsight even my wife might agree that what was to follow was far more challenging. Let the adventure begin!