Last week I jumped into the steady flow of traffic towards that new hallowed place, you know the one, it’s temple-like with colonnades, free coffee and is a mecca for all things tastefully expensive in supermarket-land. Except I didn’t turn left, I took a right instead and pulled up in the free car park outside Chaos Café, to meet the wonderfully inspiring Lindsay Wake and Rachel Balshaw.
It’s great writing for Secret Truro, getting the inside information on what’s new or maybe a bit hidden in our city. But when I’m given the chance to take a peek at something as uplifting as Chaos Café and see what they are achieving there, writing for Secret Truro reminds me of why I began writing professionally in the first place. It was while working for Save the Children, if you’re interested.
Chaos Café is part of the CHAOS group that rests on the chaos theory. Simply put, it believes that when a butterfly flaps its delicate wings in one part of the universe, a chain reaction begins that can grow into something powerful enough to be felt way across the other side.
So it is with the CHAOS group. Out of a simple act of kindness by its founder, Babs Rounsevell, who helped an older person in need, care in the community for the elderly evolved, followed by a small-holding on the Roseland where people challenged for all sorts of reasons could be nurtured, followed by the Chaos Café in Truro. And it didn’t stop there.
Alongside the Café, which is a haven for our young people with complex social needs, there is the very smart Iconic Hair and Beauty. This is a salon staffed by specially trained professionals who make it possible for people who might find a regular salon intimidating to have a full-on pamper.
Bringing Us Together
Chaos Café is a great space, not dissimilar to other lounge-like cafes in central Truro, with large comfortable sofas, snug corners, sociable and intimate tables and a delicious menu. With Wi-Fi and free parking, it’s a good destination for all those independent freelancers in Truro hot-desking around the coffee shops. Especially when every Fair Trade flat white (or whatever coffee, tea, juice, cake, quiche…you choose), is ploughed back into this fantastic community that really lives out its strap-line – Bringing Us Together.
The day I was there, Chris, who runs the café, was shelling peas with two young students from local schools. Lindsay explained, “Sometimes young people need time out from school, a quiet place where they can feel valued by the things they can do rather than crushed by the things they can’t.” Many young people have spent time in their kitchen, some using it as a retreat, others as a gentle stepping stone to the front of house where, as Lindsay says, “They grow, even explode, with confidence! It gives them great opportunities to interact with the public and learn valuable service skills.”
There’s no need for waste
Even the kitchen is well thought through. It’s like a big family kitchen, with all the activity focused on a central island, giving the young people opportunity to talk and share in a non-threatening way while they’re doing something – like shelling peas. Those peas, by the way, came from Marks and Spencer who had a surplus that they couldn’t shift. Sustainability is at the heart of the Café with a lot of the produce they use grown on their Roseland smallholding, or from other local supermarkets who are happy to do the same as M&S, all of which keeps down costs and ensures money goes where it is needed.
Marks and Spencer also give the café their chocolates and flowers that are approaching their Best Before date, giving their enterprising founder another way to quietly bless people. Babs leaves them as gifts in churches and other community spaces in the hope they will encourage others to pass on further acts of kindness.
The team, with inclusion as their mantra, is pragmatic in their approach. For example, they run workshops for the unemployed who’ve not only lost hope in the system but lost hope in themselves and their ability to change outcomes. Providing help with their CVs, they also find them voluntary work in the cafe or the smallholding, working on the crops or the farm animals. Lindsay explained that one lad was terrified of horses but was encouraged to groom a small pony, then gradually progress to larger horses until, as she says, he was grooming a giant (horse) the next time she saw him! A simple but very effective way to build self-esteem.
Other items currently on the menu include F3, a fortnightly friendship cooking group where young people with learning difficulties meet together at the café and, overseen by chef Sanjay Kumar, they cook, chat and and have fun. They also run a monthly three-course lunch for the elderly (£7.00), which links up the various people they care for in the community, giving them a chance to socialise, and even have a mini-bus to pick them up. The Gold Club (Great Opportunities for Learning Disabilities) offers a lunch for a fiver and a quiet, supportive space.
How can you help?
When I asked how they were funded, fearing it would suffer in the post referendum debacle, Lindsay explained that, although they have had EU funding, that had naturally come to an end and they were currently working towards an education funding arrangement. She explained that CHAOS Group has a highly efficient management team who work hard to secure whatever funding they can to fulfil on-going and hoped-for commitments.
That doesn’t mean they don’t need our support though. There’s an Open Day this week, on Thursday 7th, so go along and see it all for yourself. Sample the menu, be pampered in the salon and take heart that in these troubled times when it’s all going a bit self-serving crazy, there are people who really care about those on the edges of and outside of society. The team at the CHAOS Group are finding incredibly creative ways to do as they say, ‘Bringing us Together.” Go see for yourself – instead of that free cuppa in ‘you-know-where’, do your shopping then call in for a chill at Café Chaos, it’s practically on the (colonnaded) doorstep.
Find out more about Jac here