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Chatty Cafe: The Difference a Cuppa Can Make

Posted on 11 May 2023

Several schemes have been introduced within Govanhill to support people with isolation and loneliness. “Chatty Cafe”, ran by Bee’s Knees Café owner, Anna Strzalkowska is one of them. Colin Bell, one of its users, highlights the difference such schemes make to those experiencing isolation.

May 10, 2023

Image of Bee’s Knees Café owner, Anna Strzalkowska

By Michael McCandlish | Photos by Niall Miller 

For many people, taking a seat in a busy coffee shop is a chance to catch up with friends or hold a work meeting. The scent of freshly brewed coffee and warm pastries mixes with the clinking of cups. The background hum of conversations is interspersed with the whirring of the coffee machine. There’s a sense of community. 

Yet for some, being amidst all this hustle and bustle, only serves to increase feelings of isolation and highlight solitude. Sitting alone can be anxiety-provoking or emotionally challenging. Colin Bell knows this problem all too well. 

“I think my story is all too common unfortunately and I can think of many who are in a worse position, so I don’t feel sorry for myself. However, the combination of being disabled and not having people contact from the world of work, together with a degree of social anxiety, leaves me spending a great deal of time on my own. I’m an introvert but even a small amount of in-person social time makes a big difference to keeping my head above water.”

Loneliness and isolation can be a painful reality for many, particularly as people grow older. According to a report by the Mental Health Foundation, loneliness can increase the risk of developing depression, cognitive decline, and even increase the risk of premature death. In the United Kingdom, it’s estimated that loneliness affects approximately 9 million people, leading to increased visits to the doctor and higher healthcare costs for the NHS. 

Loneliness can also lead to a decrease in self-care and an increase in unhealthy behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption, and overeating which can further contribute to poor physical and mental health. It’s important to note that loneliness is not the same as being alone – people can feel lonely even when they are surrounded by others and conversely people can be alone but not feel lonely.

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Despite Govanhill being one of the most densely populated areas in Glasgow, many residents can experience loneliness. It’s for this reason that Colin developed an interest in the Chatty Cafe Scheme, which encourages cafes to designate a ‘chatty table’ where customers can sit and enjoy a cup of tea or coffee, and have someone to talk to. They even have an online version, which he has found helpful: “The Zoom version of Chatty Cafe has been such a wonderful support for me these last three years, the idea behind it is so simple and yet it works. Having an in-person version locally offers a chance for some low-cost, informal, no-pressure conversation and to engage with the local community.”

Queen’s Park Govanhill Parish Church, host a ‘chatter and natter’ table within their café. Locals will be familiar with those vibrant yellow doors but maybe not as familiar with the lunch spot inside. Welcomed with a calm vibe and a three course meal for a fiver, you’d be hard pressed to find better value than that. You can also get involved by volunteering in the café or at the weekly food bank too.  

On Bowman Street, The Bees Knees Café has recently joined the Chatty Café Scheme. Café owner Anna Strzalkowska, already provides a warm welcome to anyone entering the cosy, vintage environment. Since moving to Glasgow four years ago, it was Anna’s dream to set up her own café, but it’s become more than just somewhere to get a coffee. They host workshops, open mics and the Polish Women’s Circle meets here every fortnight. 

It’s been a lifeline for Colin, who says: “For about a year when I had a support worker, one of my very favourite things to do was have a couple of coffees and a chat in the Bees Knees, both for the lovely informal ambience but also the friendly welcome. I know they have open mic nights and other events that position them as an important part of the local Govanhill community. I hope having a Chatty Cafe table will play a small part in their community building approach.”

Another of Govanhill’s cafes also runs a mental health event every week. Family owned and operated Patricia’s Coffee Bar, partner with mental health charity You Are My Sunshine every Monday evening from 6-8pm where direct support is available from a trained professional. Despite the café being closed during lockdown, the doors were open for this as it was an essential service.  Siblings Darryl, Stephanie, David and Jade created and named the café after their mother who took her own life seven years ago. 

Darryl, a former youth worker who also runs Short Long Black, said: “We have a big mental health problem in this country, and people tend to get passed around a super stretched NHS. We wanted to create a low-pressure space where people could get access to resources and potentially help people.”

By providing a welcoming environment for individuals to connect and engage with one another, Govanhill’s cafes are doing their bit in helping to improve people’s mental and physical health, and ultimately, strengthen our community.