Friendship Café helps tackle loneliness and isolation
published on 11 Nov 2021
A Friendship Café is bringing people together to help tackle isolation and loneliness in Southport.
Set up in 2018 by Salvation Army volunteer Lesley Muir-Taylor, the café runs every Sunday afternoon at the Southport Corps (church) - with up to 30 people joining to enjoy a lunch, quiz and the company of others.
With Christmas a time when it can be even harder to cope with being alone, Lesley is determined to make sure the group are supported by hosting a Christmas party with a visit from Father Christmas, a festive lunch and quiz on Sunday 19 December. The event is sponsored by Jeannie Whatley, who has supported the Friendship Cafe since it opened.
Lesley, a retired optician who runs the café with her partner Geoff, said: “I set the cafe up because there was a real need to support people in our town who are living alone, feeling lonely or who are socially isolated.
“It’s terrible to think that some people don’t get to speak to another person all weekend. We deliberately choose a Sunday as we know the weekends can be long for those who are on their own. We want to combat this by providing a few hours of chat and friendship.
“The café provides a listening ear, particularly for vulnerable people who have suffered the worst during lockdown. We can also offer guidance and signposting in an informal friendly setting, giving out information on other activities happening in Southport that week – working with similar groups to beat loneliness together.
“It helps people to feel valued, more confident and improves mental health. Our members have told us that they feel less isolated and more integrated in their community, improving their personal resilience and physical health.
“One person said the Café is extremely important to them because they can be who they are and do not have to put on a big, brave front. That new feeling of belonging brought them much happiness.”
During the week Lesley keeps in touch with the group by sending a daily prayer and offering friendship to those that need it, which she will do throughout Christmas.
Lesley continued: “We want to be there when it matters for everyone living in our local community. No one deserves to have to face day-to-day living problems alone.
“It’s a lovely group who help each other out. I like to think that I am a facilitator of new friendships. Members are young, old, families, people who are homeless or living with disability. It’s diverse and inclusive.”
One member of the café is Helen, 31, from Southport.
Helen, who has mental health issues and Usher syndrome (the progressive loss of hearing and sight) said: “At the time, I did not have many friends, I was on my own and having a difficult time so I thought I would give it a try.
“It helps me because it gets me out at the weekend, which I struggle with because I don’t normally have anything to do and I don’t like to go into town. I struggle with my mental health and because I’m DeafBlind, that can also leave me feeling isolated.
“There are a couple of people who have become really good friends, including Lesley. If I hadn’t had the support of the Friendship Café, I’d be a lot more isolated than I am now.
“I would say to anyone ‘come down, give it a try and talk to people’. Everyone is really friendly, and who doesn’t like a free lunch!”
Stephen, 33, from Southport, who lives with a hidden disability and is severely visually impaired, started going to the cafe with a friend a couple of years ago, said: “I love hearing other people’s stories and I’ve met some people there who have had interesting lives and have shared their experiences with me.
“I have Asperger’s Syndrome and felt like friendship circles were quite clique, whereas I will talk to anybody and everybody, so it’s great if you’re a nosy person like me! It can be difficult, especially for men, to open up and talk, but I have found at the Friendship Café they do. It’s a relaxed environment and there’s no pressure.
“It can be hard for people who are on their own, but more and more are joining the café now. Throughout the pandemic we couldn’t meet but I spoke to Lesley every day. She made sure we were okay.”
Lesley works closely with groups across Southport including Stepping Stones (a social group for people with health problems), Torch Trust (enabling people with sight loss to discover Christian faith and lead fulfilling lives), Southport and West Lancs Glaucoma Support Group and Six Dots Counselling (a free service to support visually impaired people) and Revitalise Sandpipers (respite holidays for people living with disabilities and their carers).
Anyone can attend the café which runs from 1pm to 3pm every Sunday at Southport Salvation Army Café, 65 Shakespeare Street. Drinks and light refreshments are provided throughout the afternoon and everything is free of charge.
If you would like to find out more about the Friendship Café call Lesley on 07368 297861 or feel free to call in at the Cafe any weekend.