48 year old Fiona has been volunteering at The Salvation Army in Lewisham Community Café once a week since it opened in March 2018. The church and community centre reopened following refurbishment during which time the corps worshiped at neighbouring Catford hall. Fiona does not consider herself part of the worshipping community at the corps but is integral to the running of the Community Café.
“I was born in Lewisham and have lived here most of my life. There’s been a lot of change over the years but the sense of community is still really strong. I get involved in a lot of things locally. I like to feel like I am contributing to my community.
“Until 2014 I worked in retail management but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I had to make some changes in my life. I have had a lot of treatment and will need another operation this summer, but I have had the all clear now and am starting to rebuild my life. As my health has improved, I have started to do more and more. One day I hope to return to full time work but I am not working at the moment so I have time to volunteer.
“One of my passions is education. I am an advocate for parent and carer engagement, empowering people to become more involved in their children’s learning and future. I started a group in Lewisham called ‘Parent Engage’. We are a group of parents whose aim is to work alongside education providers in the borough to ensure our children get the best from their education.
“I spotted Rachel in the school playground last year. Being a single mum, I always keep an eye out for anyone on their own or who might be new. We got chatting and I learnt that she had just moved to the area with her husband Carl to be the new Salvation Army church leaders. I don’t really do religion but Rachel and I hit it off and we became friends really quickly.
“We were having coffee one day and Rachel was telling me about the new Community Café opening in Albion Road. I knew The Salvation church was there but, to be honest, it was just one of the places I walked past on my way to the shops. Rachel told me about some of the things they were planning when the church and centre reopened and I really liked the sound of it. I thought church was something that only happened on Sundays, but Rachel explained to me about the community centre and café during the week. I realised that church was about the people too and it didn’t just have to be on a Sunday!
“Rachel was really very skilful, she wasn’t heavy handed, it was all very subtle. Rachel said the café was going to be somewhere that was peaceful, a place for contemplation, but first and foremost, somewhere which offered a sense of belonging for everyone.
“Well, the more I heard, the more I wanted to get involved! With my previous retail experience, it wasn’t long before I volunteered to join the café organising group leading up to the opening. It was great getting to meet other people and being part of a team pulling it all together. It was exciting seeing the building works finish and the amazing new glass-walled side of the building installed. That has literally provided a window for all to see into the café. People walking past can’t fail to see in now. And it’s so welcoming and bright. Everyone really is welcome.
“So now we are open. I come here every Wednesday. I don’t actually see it as volunteering. It’s a ‘me’ day and I choose what I do. And I want to help at The Salvation Army Community Café. I get up early and bake a cake and then go for a quick swim. Afterwards I head off to the café with my cake in my bag. I feel good about myself for doing this. I’ve had a difficult few years and some days I still find it hard to get out of bed. But I force myself as I know it will help me. And it does. Volunteering helps my mental health. It allows me to give something back to my community. I meet lots of people, I like the interaction and chat. I like being part of the Community Café team.
“I’d say to anyone, if you can do it, if you have the time, then do it. Ask around, find out what is happening in your area. You really won’t regret it.”