HOW IT BEGAN
My name is Louise Kaye. On Tuesday 2 October 2018, I was listening to The Anatomy of Loneliness on Radio 4 and was struck by how isolated people of all ages can feel, even when they are surrounded by others.
It occurred to me that one possible solution was to get owners of local cafes to allocate a regular two-hour slot when they don't have too many customers, to encourage lonely or isolated people to come along for a cup of tea or coffee and give them the chance to chat to others in a similar situation.
Then I remembered an article I had read a while ago in the Guardian about a cafe conversation project in Vienna, which I found intriguing. Maybe that would be a good idea? No small talk, but the chance to make a real connection with someone you don't know.
Anyway, being someone who likes action, I set out immediately to speak to the owner of my local café/restaurant in Chiswick, west London. He jumped at the idea and suggested Monday afternoons between 3:00 and 5:00 would be ideal. He wasn't bothered about people spending money.
Chiswick being a big area, sadly divided by a busy main road, I then went off to meet the owner of a café on the other side of the A4. He was more than happy to have people come along on Wednesday afternoons.
Now I had to set about publicising it and finding volunteers to host the sessions. Initially I did this through local community websites, doctor's offices and churches. My local photo shop printed flyers free of charge and they went into shop windows, the library, on pharmacy counters, gyms, dental offices, hairdressers; in fact, anywhere that would take them. I spoke to the people who work those places and they were happy to hand flyers to people they thought would benefit from Cafe Conversations.
Finally, I went online and found lists of interesting ice-breaker questions and deeper, more philosophical questions. I made a number of question sheets, each with a mixture of easy and more challenging ideas to trigger conversations.
Although it took time and energy to get it going, it cost nothing. The first session began two weeks after I had come up with the idea, and 12 people turned up!
If you would like to set up something similar, this website will give you tips, links and materials to do so.