Can a Latte change your life? It’s often said answers can’t be found at the bottom of a glass – but what if there’s a solution at the bottom of a coffee mug? Isolated people have found that sharing over a hot drink means “the lonely don’t need to be alone”. Welcome to the Chatty Cafes.
As part of the BBC’s We Are Stoke-on-Trent project, residents have been speaking about the issues that matter to them. Among the topics is the work being done to bring together lonely pensioners under a service hailed a lifesaver.
The organised meetings – known as Chatty Cafes – create a safe and social environment, with regular get-togethers in the Stoke, Hanley and Fenton areas of the city.
They are led by support service CareLink which seeks to look after vulnerable people, offering them “understanding, friendship and welfare checks”.
But over coffee, something deeper seems to be happening. Meaningful friendships are forming, with many users bonding over a shared feeling of isolation or grief – and at the same time, fighting the problem. “The lonely don’t need to be alone,” one member said.
Karen Thompson and Gwen Karakawa both lost loved ones over the last five years and felt lonely on their own. It was talking about it that helped.
Gwen, 67, said she had taken so well to the group’s ethos, she felt comfortable sharing her feelings on the sudden death of her son.
“It just felt right to talk about it as I live by myself,” she said. “I was told I was brave and given big hugs.”
She told the BBC: “Chatty Cafes are such a brilliant idea. It helps you through tough times and brings everyone together just by talking.”
CareLink is looking out for the interests of 180 people and is supported by five staff members and 28 volunteers. It secured Lottery funding to start the Chatty Cafes in March.
Some of the bonds being formed are so strong, the Cafes’ chatters are planning trips away. Among them are Julia Fisher, 79, and Gladys Powell, 84, who said: “The group is a fantastic idea and I enjoy being part of it. I find it hard to leave my home so this is helping.”
But as well as support, participants also talk of a new start; a sense that setbacks could have taken over until Chatty Cafes offered refreshed purpose and direction.
Joan Scarratt, 91, lost her 88-year-old husband Bernard last year. She said it felt good to socialise again.
“You need to keep the mind ticking over and I enjoy coming to this group,” she said.
Neil Williamson, 68, organises trips to theatre shows for members and says joining has given him a “new lease of life”.
He said: “I’d be home alone staring at four walls. I look forward to seeing everyone.”
And calling the scheme a lifesaver, ex-miner Peter Owen, 72, sees the bigger picture: “The lonely don’t need to be alone.”
Councillor Ann James, from Stoke-on-Trent City Council, which supports the scheme, said: “The Chatty Cafe is a brilliant initiative that helps to combat loneliness in the city and encourage people to talk to one another – a simple conversation can make a real difference to people’s lives.”
This article was created as part of We are Stoke-on-Trent, a BBC project with the city’s people to tell the stories that matter to them.