The Waffle Hub Community Café – community outreach or community engagement?
Updated: Oct 3
by Liz Bennett
What do you do when you think God is telling you to start a community café. Well, perhaps the first thoughts are that there are so many cafes in Burnham, why would we need another one? What’s would be our USP (unique selling point)? Why would people come to us?
These were such difficult questions at the time. I had no idea! So, a group of us started to pray about it. We had a vision of being friendly – but so is every café in the town – we would get people talking to each other – but people already talk to each other at other cafes – we would waffle, that is we would sell waffles and talk to the customers – but we won’t be the only place in Burnham you can get waffles, and people do talk to their customers!
So, we prayerfully came up with other things we wanted to do to run alongside our ‘place to waffle’ These include:
Providing affordable nutritious meals
Cookery classes to teach cooking skills
Reaching out to those who are isolated within the community
Being a place where Digital Champions could provide computer services
Café and catering training
The Repair Cafe
Then the big question. How do you start a community venture like this – we had no idea!
We heard about TCC (Transforming Churches and Communities) a Christian organisation that helps new church based ventures, and we commissioned them to help us. They carried out a feasibility study for the Burnham and Highbridge area, established that there was a need for what we were intending to do, and helped us think about our structure, legal obligations, and signposted us to funding opportunities.
On 1st September 2022, we opened The Waffle Hub Community Café in the Methodist Church on College Street because we did not have the funds to buy or rent our own premises on the High Street. Neither did we have the funds to employ people, so we started with volunteers from the Baptist and Methodist church communities. Soon we had made links with Somewhere House and benefitted from their ethos of volunteering to give back to the community. The people were now in place too!
Opening the café was the first challenge – none of us had ever run a café before. We started slowly with free advertising (Burnham-on-Sea.com and Local Reach) and the support of the Burnham churches' community as customers. They were very kind and supportive and spread the word to their friends and families. We built a link with the Foodbank which also uses the Methodist Church as its base and are able to offer free (already paid for with Pay-It-Forward) food and beverages to those experiencing food poverty in the community. Then came the Russian/Ukrainian war and the cost of living crisis. We benefitted from a Warm Space grant and started to be used by more people including being used as a warm workspace.
Everyone – both customers and volunteer staff - who visited The Waffle Hub were impressed by the friendly, calm, and supportive atmosphere. The church provided a warm, safe, and serene space for people. I am sure that the presence of God was felt in the place, even if people did not recognise it as such.
With the café up and running and growing well, this was the time to concentrate on growing The Hub? We are not just a café, but all the services which bolt on to it (much like the spokes of a bicycle wheel attach to its hub).
The first venture was cookery lessons. Peter Hoffmann, who had been keeping his eye on our growth from the beginning let slip that he used to help run an afterschool cooking club (a wonderful God incidence) just as our thoughts were turning to how we might set up this venture. Peter has now taken this on and he has successfully completed a number of short and long courses. All of the equipment needed has been purchased by the Waffle Hub Community Café to support this exciting enterprise.
A number of community help groups became interested in using the Waffle Hub as their Burnham home. We are pleased to now host:
Citizens Advice, who started providing their services in person to Foodbank users, were persuaded to use The Waffle Hub space for another adviser as drop-in help for all the community too.
The Methodist church started a ‘knit and natter’ group which meet in The Hub space.
A carer’s support group
The Shaw Trust
All these are a good fit for our Hub and fit well with our aim to be a service for the community.
But we are not stopping there. We continue expanding community use of The Hub space with a repair café, and coming soon a clothes bank.
We carry our Christian ethos. We are a place where tolerance and integrity are critical. We act with confidence and compassion, acceptance and support, patience, and teamwork.
We would love to see you soon.