The Ideas Hub’s befriending art café, which is open 5 days a week between 10am to 3pm, welcomes over 5,000 visitors each year. Our “café hosts” are volunteers trained to make friendly informal conversation and to “spot” loneliness. Some conversations can last up to one hour and conversations can be recurrent – regular or not – over a number of weeks, months, or even years. 

Many friendships have developed in the Ideas Hub Café between residents and many initiatives have been born from those chance  creative conversations,  with many new connections and relationships developing, such as the Local Cultural Partnership.

The  art café is also useful for training for return to work and work experience, in particular for adults with learning disabilities (working closely with City of Chelmsford Mencap), and as support for non-English speakers (working in partnership with English for Women).

The art cafe offers a gallery wall which hosts monthly exhibitions for the pleasure of the eyes of the cafe attenders, workshops participants and the public in general.  The gallery is also an opportunity for local artists to exhibit and sale their work. If you are an artist and would like to exhibit (£40/ month),  please contact us at hosts@ideashubchelmsford.org .

Finally, the art café acts as a fundraiser, an official ‘water refill station’, and provider of ‘suspended coffees’ (whereby donations are received which are used to give drinks to those who can’t afford one).

Case study 1: A

A. started to come to the befriending café. After a few months of patience and after many face to face conversations the Ideas Hub discovered that J. who is losing his sight was living with no heating or electricity as he was unable to read his bills and had been cut off, despite having tried to seek help from the utility company and relevant authorities. We used our network of support and the help of the Ideas Hub legal service, and with Essex Sight and Age Concern J was reconnected to the electric network, in addition to connecting him to new support specific to his needs.

Case study 2: B

B is now retired and a little at a loss so he decided to drop in regularly to the befriending café. Since then, he has made friends with A through the café. Furthermore, A used to volunteer for an international charity working with Russian hospices. He used to be fluent in Russian, but he is not travelling anymore and is missing speaking Russian. At the befriending café he has also met a Russian national and they now meet at the café once a week and have discussion in Russian.

Case study 3: C

C dropped in at the café asking for volunteering work. We realised C was a little young (only 12 years old) and had not been at school for over 3 months, was lonely, and needed support. C. had arrived from abroad with her family (who did not speak much English) who had applied for C to go to school but had received no answer. Using its network, the Ideas Hub found a translator who could interpret between the Hub and the family whilst the Hub phoned each local school in turn until a place was identified. Within a week C was at school and is much happier now and C’s parents are really relieved.

Case study 4: An opportunity for serendipity and friendship!

M and S have both lost a leg.  Over the years they’ve accumulated a number of unused shoes. Bumping into each other at a workshop at the Hub they realized not only that they have opposite legs but also the same shoe size and similar enough taste too! Sure enough, they brought their shoes in and each ended up doubling their shoe wardrobe in one hour!