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Case Studies

Support to Community Cafes

Published by Christine McDermott
Community Food Worker
Oxford Healthy Living Partnership
Telephone (01865) 717243

We support cafes to get started, develop new work and share best practice. Community cafes promote healthier eating, and also benefit mental wellbeing through social interaction and the development of volunteers.

Our delivery partners are...



The community cafes themselves, based in a wide range of community venues: from children's centres and neighbourhood centres to churches and drop-in centres.  Our organisation is the hub of a wider partnership of statutory, community and voluntary organisations with an interest in making good health an experience enjoyed more equitably across Oxford City.

We have funding and support from...




Chances 4 Change, who provide the main operational budget for the project.  We are also supported by Oxfordshire Primary Care Trust, who fund the management costs, and are the lead body for legal and financial administration purposes.  Individual cafes also do their own fundraising to take specific work forward - a process that we support.

The project is located in...




Oxford City.  Our office is in Blackbird Leys, and most of our work takes place in 'areas of multiple deprivation' in Oxford's housing estates, and with vulnerable groups such as mental health service users (regardless of their location within Oxford).

The start and finish dates of the project are...



January 2008 to June 2011.

The people helped are...


Community organisations wanting to develop cafes; staff and volunteers at the cafes; and of course the users of cafes, who benefit from the resource in their community.

Our cafe projects include work with specific BME groups, mental health service users, people with learning disabilities, refugees and asylum seekers, parents with young children and older people, as well as members of the general population in 'areas of multiple deprivation'.

What they have said is...

"The Healthy Living Partnership has highlighted the need for healthy eating in the community and has provided the training to enable us to offer healthy eating options to the community.

Cafes provide a meeting place.  The sharing of food around tables is the way that relationships are developed, and community is formed.

Eating together is one of the most important ways in which people develop a feeling of belonging and friendship."


James Grote, Director, Broom Tree Cafe


"The training has been wonderful: you've listened to what people want and then provided it.  It's given us a greater wealth of recipes and new ideas for healthier menus.

It's given me more confidence in my skills, which helps me to teach our volunteers better.

The cafe provides a place for people to get together and eat a home-cooked meal at a cheap price.  People can find out what's going on and link in with other services."


Hannah Wolstenholme, Volunteer Trainer / Co-ordinator, Eatwells Cafe

We set up the project because...

We believe strongly that community cafes bring people together, and are a down-to-earth way to support a wide range of community development and health-related work.  We knew that many organisations wanted to set up and expand cafes - but we were also aware that the logistics can be complex and support is crucial, especially in the early stages.

The difference this project makes is...

A different difference for each cafe!  We provide support and signposting that's tailored to the needs of each cafe.  We increase development skills, and help cafes share their experiences with each other.  Small contributions towards costs can enable a project to get off the ground, or try a new approach.

Even established cafes, such as the Broom Tree (see quote above), benefit greatly from being part of a community of other cafes, and from having the opportunity to reflect on and develop what they do, making the most of a valuable community resource.

Cafes make a massive difference in communities - having somewhere to meet and enjoy affordable, healthy food, and the opportunity to find out what else is happening in the area.  Gaining catering experience and qualifications can be a pathway into work for volunteers.  Many cafes provide additional facilities such as free computer access, which not everyone can afford at home....  we could go on!

All the projects demonstrate the life that cafes can bring into an area, and the empowerment that springs out of their work - whether for individuals experiencing new opportunities, or for organisations and a wider sense of connection in the community.


What we did or are doing

We provide support that suits the needs of each partner cafe.  Here are some examples:

  • Attending meetings and supporting the development process with information on business planning.
  • Funding a researcher to teach community research skills to a group of volunteers - who then consulted with community members and produced a report on the kind of cafe needed.
  • Providing training in Food Safety,  Community First Aid Training for Trainers (in partnership with the British Red Cross) and Creative Cooking.  Some of our courses train staff  and volunteers to become tutors themselves, for example the Cookery Leader Training course.
  • Helping with start-up costs such as food, utensils and publicity.
  • Providing equipment for a community allotment - produce grown is used in the Community Centre cafe.
  • Setting up a Community Cafes Network, with a focus on peer mentoring and sharing best practice.  Cafes are already looking into developing a Food Co-op to bring down the cost of healthy supplies.

We chose this method because...

We knew it worked from the evaluation of a previous healthy eating project (funded by the Big Lottery Fund's Healthy Living Centres programme) - but this time we wanted to make cafes a focus and support more projects.  Our twenty-four partner organisations helped to establish that there was a need for this programme in a range of settings.

What's happened is...

We are privileged to have been an ingredient in the success of many cafe projects.  The real hard work has been done by the cafe teams themselves: as our contribution, we've increased the capacity of individuals and organisations to realise the work and become more independent.

Not all the ventures we've supported have worked out - we see this as part and parcel of having the opportunity to have a go; and it's also indicative of the precarious circumstances many projects are working under.  Often the difficult times can be turned around into a better design or a new opportunity, and we've supported this where we can.

There have been lots of ups, downs and learning along the way,and the result is a flourishing community of cafes in Oxford, who support each other and the community development work in each cafe location.

What we'd do differently...

We'd include the cost of delivery staff in the initial budget.  Match funding in the form of staff time is only as stable as the department providing the staff.  Unfortunately we are living in a climate of change, and organisational restructures are inevitable: having key staff costs covered by external funding provides a degree of stability for projects at this time.


An external evaluation will be available after the end of this project.

This project helped to deliver...


This project helped to deliver on a range of national and local strategies and targets, including:


•·        The Directorate of Public Health: Plan for Oxfordshire strategy, Function 3: "rooting out inequalities in health and wellbeing and championing the needs of vulnerable groups" (through the project's community development approach to partnership work with cafes)

•·        Oxfordshire 20:30 strategic priorities to "create healthy and thriving communities" and "reduce inequalities and break the cycle of deprivation", Oxfordshire County Council Priority 2 "creating healthy and thriving communities" (A large proportion of the community cafes supported are in areas of multiple-deprivation.  The project has provided start up funding and advice to new cafes, worked with cafes to build sustainability, supported local volunteers into paid employment,  provided accredited training that contributes to the increase in skills of local communities as well as building the capacity of community organisations. )

•·        PCT strategic goals including, Goal D "help more people make sustainable healthy lifestyle choices" and Goal B.4 "improve health outcomes and promote independence for children and families living in areas of deprivation" (for example, the running of Healthy Eating on a Budget courses in community cafes)

•·        Local Area Agreement N120 "reduce gap in all age/all cause mortality rate between best and worst 20% of small areas" and NI 6 "increase participation in regular volunteering" (through the extensive range of volunteering opportunities that the project offers)

•·        National quality standards for Better Health Domain 7: "public health standards" (evidenced for example, through the Food Hygiene training provided for café staff and volunteers)


The Support to Community Cafes Project has reached 108% of its target group to date.


The project is now...


Nearing completion (six months left to run at time of writing - November 2010).  We are supporting the development of the Community Cafes Network, which we hope will enable peer support to continue after the project ends.

Additional information or comments?


Our project has been recognised as an example of good practice by the Fresh Ideas Network and the Chances 4 Change team. 



Print this page
Lead Organisation Oxford Healthy Living Partnership
Geographical Area Oxfordshire
Outcomes Capacity building, Community cohesion, Developing talent, Improving health, Increasing participation
Beneficiary Age Adults, Antenatal, Children (5-15), Early Years (0-4), Older People (Over 60), Young People (16-25)
Beneficiary Groups Black & minority ethnic groups (BME), Disadvantaged families, Families, Other professionals, People at risk of mental health problems, People with physical or learning disabilities, Unemployed people, Volunteers, Vulnerable children & families, Young parents
Type of activity Cooking skills, Food quality & safety, Growing & access to food, Nutrition, Policies & practice, Sustainability & procurement
Primary Theme Eating for Health
Secondary Themes Mental Wellbeing



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