Café Camaraderie launched in 2023 by Lay’ah Rachel after noticing through professional and personal experience that there were significant gaps in aftercare for many people affected by mental and physical ill health.
Lay’ah explains why the café in Tyldesley is more than just a place to grab lovingly created food at very reasonable prices.
“There are people in our community in need of support. The NHS are under enormous pressure and wait times for interventions are long. In the case of counselling, for example, there’s at least a 9 month wait from referral to in person sessions beginning. And when the sessions end, what do people do and where do they go, because it doesn’t end there…”
“Some people might just want a place to go; have a bit of food and drink, not necessarily even talk to anybody, but just be in an environment where they know they can feel accepted and safe.”
“Sometimes you need someone to say I really care; I understand what you are going through right now and for it not to be a flippant remark, but said with shared and / or experience and that’s what the volunteer team at Café Camaraderie have.”
“At Café Camaraderie, we have people who can get alongside those who need support and our goal is to do so indefinitely.”
Lay’ah’s background is in social care and early years work, but more recently, her experience in the hospitality industry means she is able to use her skills to help others and she does so, through food. She also has the benefit of the lived experience of her own journey through the NHS system.
Her brainchild Café Camaraderie has only been open since April. It feels welcoming, friendly and serves extraordinary moreish cakes. The walls are covered with reassuring signage: ‘If you need support today, please know you can speak to us because our volunteers are trained and qualified and able to provide support services’.
She explained: “We can help those who have experienced trauma, have PTSD, have a physical diagnosis, and who suffer from mental health ill health. We are already supporting dozens of people on a regular basis. Some who have had recent cancer diagnosis who are about to start chemotherapy, some who have mental health issues and are waiting for counselling, and young people who were facing mental health challenges during their examinations so they were popping in on a regular basis for a chat and free breakfast sandwich and drink.”
The high-quality dishes served in the café and by its catering offshoot pays for the much-needed work of the Café Camaraderie Community Interest Company.
“The café profits fund care packages, food parcels and holistic support for the most vulnerable in our community. Soon, cooking classes will help those who receive food parcels, to cook in nutritious and imaginative ways. Purchases from the café, helps us meet the needs of the most needy.
“We access funding from Deal for Communities and Brighter Boroughs but are mainly self-funded as we still don’t meet lot of the criteria for bigger pots of funding, because we’re so new. If any one would like to help top us up, we have a fundraising page to help us continue our work while we overcome some of the funding barriers.”
“It is very much a team. I shared the concept with our volunteer team, and they have bought into that concept. We are doing it together. We have 11 volunteers and soon, I’ll be able to take a step back and work on our growth.
“It’s not just about food though, we exist to help break down accessibility barriers. We can provide training and qualifications and this is complimented by work experience placements in a number of industries. We work with local partners to achieve this.”
“There is a real mix,” explains Lay’ah. “Families with children in the early years pop in after their activities at the children’s centre which we occupy, patients and staff from the health clinic next door, students… the general public, basically!
“We host Macmillan Mondays where all profits go to the incredible work Macmillan Cancer Support do.” We had been delivering food care packages to two ladies who recently had surgery for cancer, before they even stepped into the café because they were signposted by their friends. Recently they felt well enough to come in and it was fantastic to see them enjoying our space.
“There’s a gentleman who is really struggling with mental health and a couple of different conditions. He saw our poster in a doctor’s surgery and spent the entire week trying to get over that threshold. He finally did it and we went and talked. We know his situation now. He said: ‘I’m going to try and come three times a week’.
We nurture and encourage but never put pressure on anyone to come along. It has to be right because sometimes trying to get out the house is just the big task of the day for him, let alone coming down, asking for a cup of tea and engaging in any conversation.
“Our team have lived experience and have learnt the valuable art of asking for help themselves. Many of us are still learning! We are also professionally skilled and trained in mental ill health, person centred care and safeguarding adults at risk among other things.”
Café Camaraderie shares its knowledge through training courses. They range from £20 for dementia awareness, person centred care or food safety to around £180 for more formal qualifications such as Mental Health First Aid but often, we can provide these courses free of charge.
Lay’ah Rachel sums it up well: “We are a safety net: supporting the NHS with informal services that can help make a difference to people’s lives, helping overcome the anxieties of waiting for formal intervention, and we can help provide the consistency some services cannot because they are under so much pressure. We are here to support everyone.
Pop into Café Cameradie on Poplar Street, Tyldesley, M29 8AX, Monday to Friday (excluding Bank Holidays), 8:30am to 1pm.