Community café opens in Bantry to help combat social isolation

January 12th, 2023 10:05 PM

By Jackie Keogh

Nuala Kenny has been a driving force behind the new café.

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A CAFÉ in Bantry where people can share what’s happening in their lives opened its doors on Christmas Eve.

Nuala Kenny, a peer support worker with the HSE, first got the idea for a community café three years ago but obviously Covid got in the way.

But most of the work for the new initiative has been done and the pre-Christmas ‘soft opening’ was a way of introducing the concept to the people of West Cork.

The official opening of the café at Bridge Street is not likely to take place until February because there’s still a lot of work to be done to complete admin and training, according to Nuala.

Bantry Lions Club, in particular Nora Lynch, supported the venture which Nuala described as being a place where ‘people can be seen, be heard, and acknowledged for what they are going through.’

The community café will serve hot drinks and some sweet treats, like cakes and scones, as well as some savouries.

‘We will not be cooking on the premises,’ said Nuala. ‘That’s not what it’s about. We will be buying in the snacks. The idea is to create a space where people can meet in a relaxed environment, share their stories and their experiences, and draw from that wisdom, strength and mutual support.’

The café will be open during the day and possibly late in the evenings too. It will also be open at the weekends. 

The gathering on Christmas Eve was attended by about 30 people who already had an idea of what the project is all about.

‘We chose Christmas Eve for the soft launch because Christmas can be a difficult, and isolating time of year, for people who don’t have family,’ said Nuala. 

‘Everyone agreed that the space at the café was perfect. It’s very inviting and calming too.

‘Those in attendance – aged from 18 to 82 – enjoyed a hot non-alcoholic drink and some mince pies, and fell into easy conversation with one another.’

In her job, Nuala said she noticed that isolation and loneliness is on the rise.

The people who are referred to Nuala frequently say they are lonely and are looking for a way to connect back with their community.

‘They often have no one to talk to, especially out-of-hours when the professional services are closed,’ she said.

‘When people have mental health difficulties – including loneliness and isolation – they often disconnect from themselves, their family, their friends and their community.

‘It’s been my experience,’ said Nuala, ‘that they find it hard to talk about what is going on for them. Instead, they go into themselves and disassociate.’

The community café, which is supported by the Cork Mental Health Foundation, will be a place where people can reconnect with themselves and others in their community.

‘Here,’ she said, ‘they will find support, a sense of meaning and belonging.’

People visiting the café can sign up to a peer support group, or book a space at the ‘listening table’ with one of the 15-trained volunteers. For more information contact Nuala on 087 6074908. 

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