Cafe Revival: by Deborah Haylett

Cafe Revival, the mental health charity cafe run as a social enterprise by Mind in Bexley and East Kent Mind is facing an uncertain future.

Revival was forced to close from March 20, just before lockdown began. Like so many others in the hospitality industry we made huge losses in March as footfall plummeted and we lost most of our stock during lockdown. Although we managed to furlough most of our staff there are always ongoing fixed costs and expenses and significant loss of income.

Revival is also more than a cafe. As a mental health organisation our priority from the day we opened has been to provide an employment support programme, an inclusive space, peer support and mentoring, and to challenge stigma and raise awareness. This priority runs through everything we do, from our fundraising quiz nights to our social activities and mental health campaigns.

At the beginning of lockdown we were obviously really worried about the impact of the cafe’s closure on our most vulnerable users and therefore worked with East Kent Mind to develop an online digital support timetable and wellbeing support line; this provided a continuation of mental health support in some form.

Many of our staff also undertook training on these services and found it really rewarding. While the phone-line service has now developed into a peer mentoring service, the online support is still going strong in its original six-day-a-week format. Although we are proud to have been able to support this work, we know how important it was to safely reopen our space for customers but also, vitally, for our long-term business/organisation viability.

Our charity sublets the cafe space within the Horsebridge Arts Centre and although we were shocked to hear at the beginning of June that they had made the difficult decision not to open to the public until September, we hoped to open up a conversation about the potential of Revival opening independently when regulations allowed.

To be allowed the opportunity to at least try was very important to us, especially as we are aware how many people in the community rely on our familiar space: for pay-it-forward, to find support or information, or just a safe and friendly place to check in for a chat.

We were also worried about the impact of an extended closure on our staff. The cafe provides employment and support to those having suffered, currently suffering or caring for those suffering with mild to moderate — and, in some cases, enduring — mental health issues. We poured our energy in engaging with the board of trustees at the Horsebridge.

After eight weeks we finally obtained their agreement and support to reopen Revival on Thursday July 30. We had a phased return to ensure that our thorough processes and procedures were Covid-secure and our staff and customers felt safe and confident in our comprehensive risk assessment and subsequent working practices.

With the summer drawing to a close, we have taken some time to reflect and review the last few weeks and look to the future. Although there have been many challenges, it has also been extremely rewarding to be able to reopen our doors and see so many of our community return safely and enjoy our space.

We have been very lucky to have the support of a core of volunteers that have helped us staff the reception area and keep our social media up to date and relevant during the summer, and we will miss them very much when they return to work and study. We have also undoubtedly benefited, in the short term, from the government ‘eat out to help out’ scheme, but footfall and internal dining space remains at only 60 per cent capacity. This reality has inevitably resulted in a drop-off, and we are working hard to plan for the coming months.

While the future may look uncertain, and with the Horsebridge Centre currently remaining closed to the public and the galleries lying empty, we know we need to continue to push forward and fight to remain open and active. These are challenging times. We miss the buzz of a busy building with classes and exhibitions and the many interesting and dynamic community projects run by the centre, not to mention all the centre staff; but we know that closing is not an option for us, we cannot support our community or staff if we are not open.

We must look at alternative means of support and, as such, we have been exploring alternative funding streams to support our mental health initiatives. The reality is not easy with so many organisations desperate for support. Opportunities are limited and competition is fierce. Unfortunately, mental health funding remains the poor relative when it comes to commissioning. We are, however, excited about launching our own merchandise and shop with the support of local artists and those looking to support mental health campaigns: please do keep an eye on our social media for updates.

We know that Revival has so much to be grateful for, but we also know there is so much more to do and we would welcome your help. There are many ways you can support us, from donating to our pay-it-forward, sharing our social-media posts, tagging us when you eat with us, telling your friends and family about us or simply by ‘choosing us’. Where you choose to buy your coffee, cake or lunch matters, it makes a difference.

Every purchase at Revival goes directly into keeping us open to all, supporting our mental health initiatives and helps us plan for future development and sustainability working in partnership with East Kent Mind.

If you have more time or experience and would like to be more involved in ensuring our success and planning for sustainability, we would love to hear from you, whether it is volunteering, contributing to our strategic committee, helping with fundraising or just ideas or suggestions: all are welcome. Together we can make things better and plan for a brighter future.


You can donate to Revival from our website here: https://www.revivalkent.co.uk/

Deborah Haylett is the Business and Development Manager of Revival, East Kent Mind

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