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Night light cafes

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We’re supporting 26 mental health and suicide prevention charities through our Community Champions fundraising. Here, we discover Lincolnshire’s Night Light cafes and how these volunteers are saving lives one cuppa at a time…

When Stacey Marriott experienced a mental health crisis, she was grateful to receive help from her family and friends. But she considered what would’ve happened if she didn’t have this support system in place. Where can you turn to for help when it’s late at night and everything is closed?

With existing crisis services overstretched, Stacey wanted to be part of the solution to the problem, so in 2019 she established the first of Lincolnshire’s Night Light Cafes. Now with eight centres in Lincoln, and eight more in the surrounding areas, Stacey co-ordinates this network of community causes, providing help to those who have nowhere else to go.

Alongside Greater Lincoln Active Faith Network, Stacey worked with a health and wellbeing group to pitch the idea to the NHS. Stacey says, “There have always been telephone helplines for mental health crises, which are an excellent resource. But I strongly felt people would benefit from the option to speak to someone face-to-face during their time of need.” Funding was granted under the NHS’ Mental Health Transformation Programme, which aims to empower charitable organisations.

The cafés are found in communities with the most need and are open every day of the year, including religious holidays. Most cases are self-referrals, but guests can be referred by social prescribers, their GP, or food banks. With the support of charity Acts Trust, the cafes use this network of local causes to signpost guests to other community services, breaking the cycle of struggle.

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At Bridge Central Church on Lincoln’s Portland Street, the café is designed to create the most soothing atmosphere possible. The kettle is on a constant boil, the biscuit tin is always full, and the tinkling music lulls you into a much-welcomed state of relaxation. For those who prefer their privacy, adjoining rooms are available for quiet meetings.

According to Stacey, each café has its own personality, but they all have one thing in common: a warm welcome. She says, “We specifically chose to describe the centres as ‘cafés’ because we want to make it as easy as possible for guests to visit. There’s no formal, clinical assessment when you first arrive, we just encourage you to phone beforehand so we can give you an idea of what to expect. We welcome anyone who is finding life difficult, which we all do at some point. There’s no specific criteria; we don’t want people to think they’re ‘not poorly enough’ to receive help.”

Since the opening of the first branch in March 2020, the Night Light cafes have facilitated more than 3400 visits and made more than 2100 phone calls to guests. People of all ages and backgrounds visit the cafés for different reasons, whether it’s to seek specific support, connect with their peers, or just have a hot drink and a chat. Stacey says, “Some people want to talk about their problems, and some people want to talk about anything except their problems. We’re happy to do either.”

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There are now more than 100 volunteers across the network, many of them having previously been users of the service. Others are doctors, student counsellors, and retirees, all trained to handle a range of situations.

Co-ordinator Kerry Robinson has only been part of the project for a short time but has already been struck by the impact the volunteers have. She says, “I think the fact guests are talking to volunteers really helps. They know they’re listening because they care, not because they’re paid to be. Our volunteers have been described as ‘somewhere between a professional and a friend.’”

One individual arrived at the café in a desperate state. With no food in his cupboards he didn’t know how he could carry on. With the help of the volunteers, he went home with a bag of food, a referral for his local food bank, and hope for the future. The same individual used to experience anxiety attacks in the evenings because he felt so alone. “Now he knows support is available his anxiety is significantly reduced. He doesn’t even need to come to the café, he just knows it’s there,” Stacey says. “Some people just need to feel they’re not on their own.”

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The Night Light cafés are one of Lincolnshire Co-op’s current Community Champions. Together, we’re raising funds so the group can provide volunteers with more specialist training, better equipping them to deal with issues such as domestic violence and drug and alcohol misuse.

More cafes are planned for areas of Lincolnshire that would benefit. Kerry says, “It’s amazing to see how the project has evolved from a small idea to an important resource for the wider community. The speed at which it has grown really demonstrates the need there is. We’re one of the only in-person services in the county, so a lot of people rely on us.”

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