You might not think of hosting a regular coffee morning as loving service of the world. But with isolation and loneliness being shown to have negative effects on our mental and physical health, giving people an opportunity to connect with others can be a real lifeline.
When we asked church leaders and church officers what needs they saw in their communities, half of respondents said isolation, making it the joint-most commonly chosen option, alongside food and fuel poverty. This is borne out by other research which has suggested that, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, 1 in 5 people in the UK often or always felt lonely. This can not only affect someone’s quality of life and sense of wellbeing, but can increase their risk of certain illnesses and health conditions, including dementia.
Anyone can be lonely, and sometimes it is those we least expect. For example, although we often associate loneliness with older age, in fact those aged 16-24 were the most likely to report often or always feeling lonely in the Government’s latest Community Life survey. Nevertheless, certain groups are more likely to feel isolated than others, such as people with long-term illnesses or disabilities, those living in economically deprived areas, new parents and people who have been widowed. So, by intentionally welcoming these individuals, churches’ coffee mornings can make an even bigger difference.
This is the goal of the Places of Welcome network – over 450 churches, community centres, libraries and other places of worship across the country open their doors at the same time each week for people to drop in, have a free hot drink or biscuit, and get to know others in their community.
“We’ve been waiting for this all week”, Dave and Sharon at St Paul’s and St Augustine’s Church often hear on Wednesday afternoons, when they open their ‘community hub’. Aware of the widespread isolation caused by Covid-19, they wanted to be able to help people to reconnect in an unpressured way. When they started, in September 2021, they wondered whether anyone would come. A year on, they now see around 25 people each week, and sometimes up to 40, including young families who are new to the area, older residents, and people who are out-of-work.
As more people have started to come, the hub has started to offer more activities in response to people’s interests. The sewing group made bunting to decorate the space, the knitting group has made poppies for Remembrance Day, while the young at heart gather around the pool table.
The monthly table-top sale which St Paul’s and St Augustine’s also provides an opportunity for people to buy books, bric-a-brac and household items at really affordable prices. Not only does that draw more people inside the church, but it also provides the income to help keep the hub running.
Once people start coming to the drop-in, Dave and Sharon are then able to point people to other activities which they might enjoy within the church or locally. They have also invited Police Community Support Officers and local councillors to offer advice and support. By just putting the kettle on and starting up conversations, St Paul’s and St Augustine’s are serving some of the most vulnerable people in their neighbourhood – giving them a place where they can just be, and be treated with the dignity and honour which Jesus would show them.
If you would like to find out more about how your church can reduce loneliness and support mental health, sign up for our free webinar on Thursday 2 February, 7pm – 8:30pm where we will hear about different ways that churches can be a safe and welcoming place for people who are struggling with their mental health. To find out more and to register for a place, click here.