Clarkesfield, Greenacres and Littlemoor Big Local’s community café in Oldham.
By Sam Eccleston, community worker at St Barnabas Church in Oldham
Our Big Local community café is a response to a need identified through consultation in the area; local people felt that there were few places for people to informally socialise which were open during the day and which did not involve the consumption of alcohol. Additionally, there are few outlets offering much in the way of healthy food in the area, and there is a big problem with food poverty in Oldham. So it seemed obvious that a café offering cheap, tasty, healthy food would be a good thing for the area.
We opened our café for some pilot sessions in December 2013, and opened fully in January of this year. We are open 10am – 2pm on Mondays, and specialise in serving tasty, healthy and unusual soups. So far we have had Vietnamese Pho soup, pear and parsnip and other unusual and exotic recipes. We like to keep our food and drinks as cheap as possible; soup with bread costs £1.30 and customers are welcome to second helpings. We offer a small children’s play area, craft activities with local Star Person Audra Walsh, and will soon have a job club with full internet access on five laptops.
We use the church hall of St Barnabas Church Clarksfield. The space is used for all kinds of other activities during the week; there is a really good group who teach life skills to young mothers, there are dance groups, drama groups, uniformed groups etc. The kitchen is of a fairly decent standard, the only bits of work we had to do were hygiene related – painting and clearing weeds from an alleyway behind the church. We use the hall more or less for free, although we do reimburse the church as and when we can with the takings from the café. We hope that within the year the café will be able to pay rent from takings.
Our cafe project relies mainly on volunteers. Our chef Duane has over 20 years catering experience in a variety of high-class restaurants, which is invaluable in allowing us to produce high quality, nutritious food efficiently and cost-effectively. Dave who will be running our job club, is also involved in another job club elsewhere, and has extensive experience of issues affecting local people through years of trade union activism and other paid and volunteer roles.
The main challenges to opening the café were initially health and safety related – in our case Oldham Big Local provided food hygiene training for partnership group members, and Duane already has high-level food hygiene certification as part of his professional background. The main obstacle to running a successful project on a week-by-week basis is ensuring sufficient attendance to cover costs. Luckily we have been able to do this most weeks, but a bit of bad weather or a few regulars going on holiday can eat into your profit margins considerably. We anticipate numbers being greatly increased when the job club is up and running, which we hope will be within the next month.