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‘I’m happy to chat, please join me’ – how one cafe is encouraging customers to befriend solo diners

PUBLISHED: 08:27 21 February 2020

St Lawrence Cafe team member Jane Taylor enjoys a chat with customer Irene Leaver  Picture: REALISE FUTURES

St Lawrence Cafe team member Jane Taylor enjoys a chat with customer Irene Leaver Picture: REALISE FUTURES

REALISE FUTURES

An Ipswich community cafe is calling on more customers to sit and talk with each other in a bid to combat the loneliness issue in the area.

Community café manager Caron Mexome, who helped launch the initiative to combat loneliness in the area  Picture: REALISE FUTURESCommunity café manager Caron Mexome, who helped launch the initiative to combat loneliness in the area Picture: REALISE FUTURES

St Lawrence Cafe, based in the church in Dial Lane, encourages customers to chat to one another by placing a card saying "I'm happy to chat, please join me" on their table.

It is hoped the sign will see more people in the town and wider area who suffer from loneliness leave their homes and make friends.

The issue is particularly important in Suffolk, where 40% of older people live in remote areas.

Cafe manager Caron Mexome said she and her team were inspired to do something to tackle loneliness after speaking to customers over the festive period.

Ms Mexome said: "Customers are free to put a sign on their table letting others know that they are free for a chat. It's totally up to customers to decide if they would like some company or not.

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After talking to a few customers over Christmas, it became clear that it was something people wanted and welcomed.

"For example, I spoke to a lady who had lost two of her friends last year. She had met up with them for many years, but now she had no-one and just felt really lonely.

"Also, an elderly man told me his wife had recently been diagnosed with dementia. When I spoke to him, he was tearful and said he felt so alone. It's awful to see and hear that some of our older generation are so lonely."

The cafe is one of six businesses run by local social enterprise Realise Futures, which specialises in employment and skills development opportunities for people who are disabled or disadvantaged.

In total, the enterprise employs around 250 people, 41% of whom have a disability.

Ms Mexome added: "As a team, we are all very friendly and will speak or support anyone. We have really embraced this idea which will be a permanent thing. All the team want is for the customers to feel welcome and happy.

"Our café is popular and busy most days, as we have beautiful surroundings and a friendly team. They are delighted with the response from customers as, so far, we've had a very positive reaction, with people saying it's a great idea."

The cafe is open six days a week, between 9.30am and 4pm.

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