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‘Friendliness Cafe’ Launched to Combat Increasing Loneliness and Feelings of Isolation Due to the Pa

Four community organizations have joined forces to start an event to try and combat student and community loneliness. The organisations include both community and university groups and include Zest Café, the Chatty Café Scheme, Link Befriending and the University’s Populus Society. Loneliness has skyrocketed during the pandemic and as a re- sult of multiple lockdowns with people from all backgrounds affected, including students. The event will be held twice weekly, alternating between the North East Fife Community hub at Albany Park on Mondays and Zest Café on Thursdays. Anyone who wishes to partici- pate can go along to the event and sit at a designated table marked with a “Let’s Chat!” sign. There, they will be met with a hot drink and a volunteer ready to chat and lend a friendly ear. Opened in 2008, Zest is a multiple award-winning cafe which works alongside Fife council among other organisations to provide opportunities for learning though work for those who might face additional barriers in employment. Zest’s website states the café provides quality training for “people who need a helping hand into employment”.

The café had been looking to host a regular event to help combat loneliness which would give locals and students the opportunity to make new connections in a safe space when Zest’s owner was approached by the organisations.

Initially, the café’s owner, Lisa Cathro, learned of the Chatty Café scheme from retiree Wilma Burnett. The scheme involves getting venues to mark tables as designat- ed for people who wish to chat to others and form new friendships. Burnett of the Chatty Café said, “I wanted to be involved in something like this because I am keenly aware it is all too easy to become quite isolated at any time in your life no matter who you are or what your background is. Breaking down the barriers of isolation can be extremely difficult, but people can be helped with this if they have somewhere to go where they will have guaranteed company in a regular, public setting.”

Upon meeting Senga Smith from Link Befriending, which helps those who experience isolation due to mental illness, she decided on a café event.

Zest was then approached by Havana Frakes of the University’s Populus Society which focusses on reducing student isolation and loneliness.

Cathro said of the event: “As a local independent business we are so grateful for the huge community support we’ve had over the past few years. We’d love to give some of that back and help people connect. We love working collaboratively with not only the amazing local resource that is the new NEF Community Hub but also with our student community through Populus, both of whom share our vision and mission.” Frakes said: “Everyone needs human connection, in one form or another, but meeting new people is always challenging and COVID has exacerbated that in a way which affects all ages and social groups. It makes great sense to provide every- one with a venue and format designed to help them form new connections.” The Monday “Lets Chat!” café will take place at the North East Fife Community Hub at Albany Park from 10 am - 12 pm. The second drop-in café will run from 5 - 7 pm at Zest on South Street.

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