A pop-up café that is a lifeline to local people in Canterbury has had a boost after being awarded funds raised through The Health Lottery.
Route 23, based in Spring Lane Neighbourhood Centre, is run by the charity Time Out and it’s become a place where people can drop in for coffee and cake or bring their children and grandchildren to a Park and Play session. Everyone gets a warm welcome from the friendly staff and volunteers – and while the chocolate brownies are the best in town, the chat is even better.
“Time Out creates places where people can meet and form communities – especially on estates, where people could feel quite isolated,” says project manager Ellie Overton.
“The idea for a café started six years ago – because the local group was thriving and we thought: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if this wasn’t just for an hour, and we could pay local people to run it?’ People’s Health Trust supported us right from the beginning with a grant, using money raised through The Health Lottery.”
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With Route 23’s affordable menu of a legendary fry-up, a different hot meal every day, and sweet treats, it’s a popular spot. But it also offers a connection and company for anyone feeling isolated, from young mums to pensioners.
During lockdown, volunteers were able to put on Zoom-based events such as an online Christmas party, and kept in touch by texting and sending cards to their regular customers. Now they’re delighted to be back in business and launching new initiatives such as a baby group for people who became parents during the pandemic.
“It’s been lovely to be back together,” says Ellie. “Everyone knows each other’s names and we know when to expect people. Some of the volunteers and staff walked in and said: ’I feel like I’m back at home.’“We wouldn’t exist without this funding. Part of making the food more affordable means we’re not making a profit. All the staff salaries are funded by this and it means a lot. Two of them had never had a job before they started working at the café, but they’ve discovered skills they didn’t know they had.”
Ellie is well aware that customers have a choice of cafés, so she and the team have worked hard to make Route 23 special. “If you want to go to a café, you can go to the High Street,” she says. “But in an area with more socio-economic difficulties, people might not be able to afford it.
“We also have some people with large wheelchairs who couldn’t fit into some cafés and now they come really regularly. It’s so nice we can be a place where everyone comes and feels welcome.”
'A lovely atmosphere'
“Route 23 is a lovely place to go for a coffee and a piece of cake,” says customer Lyn Littlefield.
“When I was looking after my little grandsons, I used to take them along on a Tuesday morning. My husband’s a big fan of their fry-up! While we had a nice breakfast, the boys could play and it was an altogether enjoyable way of spending a couple of hours. In fact, sometimes we had such a good time we’d go home and come back again for tea.
“As a grandma, I felt other groups in the area were for young mums, quite rightly, but I fitted in at Route 23. It’s a mixture of generations and backgrounds: you have your mums with babies, and retired people like me. They see you as part of the family and it’s a really lovely atmosphere.”
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