Do you know how many community cafés are in Edinburgh? The number changes constantly as cafés open and close, but at the time of writing, there are 50 open and running within the Edinburgh Community Café Network. Some of these cafés are well established and have been running for years while others are only open if and when they have volunteers to run them.

The Community Café Network is supported by Edinburgh Community Food and aims to raise awareness of all the community cafés in Edinburgh, striving to bring the different cafés together in an effort to increase the community café brand. As a network, we aim to share skills, training and knowledge as well as try to increase the impact the different cafés have within their various communities.

A community café usually will address issues around sustainability, community cohesion and inclusion. It may be a revenue earner for its community, offer training opportunities, and/or be a focal point for centre users and local people. Many cafés are situated within community centres operating within a hub that serves the local community. Some are housed in churches, where they serve the local congregation and wider community. Others are contained within sports clubs or leisure centres and offer refreshments to those taking part in activities as well as their chaperones. Ultimately all community cafés strive to provide a clean, welcoming and safe environment for a wide range of community groups. They offer food and drinks at affordable prices in a friendly and welcoming atmosphere; ultimately they are sociable places that are absolutely inclusive helping reduce isolation. While some cafés provide this for the communities in their immediate geographic location, others operate as a hub for specific groups who travel to its location.

Autism Initiatives is a UK-wide charity that has two cafés in Edinburgh. The Café on the Corner helps support adults on the Autism Spectrum. They not only raise awareness of Autism but by creating occupational placements they help those on the spectrum improve confidence and learn new skills within a work environment. Their other café is set in the Braid Hills which along with serving food and drinks, The Hermitage is a centre which includes a dance studio, therapy room and even a 12 hole golf course. They have developed activities which provide a focus for adults with autism as well as the local and wider community.

The Hub Grub Café is an excellent example of a café operating within a community centre that is providing support for local people. This café serves its public from Monday to Friday as well as running a lunch club, providing older adults with transport to the centre followed by lunch. The Restalrig Lochend Community Hub offers an incredibly wide array of services to all of the differing members of the East of Edinburgh.

The Broomhouse Café Training Project is used as a café facility for people from the local and wider communities; they provide meals during lunch clubs which provide nutritious two-course meals to groups who would otherwise be susceptible to isolation and loneliness. They not only run the café within the centre (which itself runs around 10 community projects for local older adults, young people and carers) they also runs the Crescent Kitchen, a training kitchen which offers outside catering as well as in-house buffets.

Many of our community cafés promote healthier eating and 10 have successfully achieved the NHS HealthyLiving Award.  Furthermore, 20 cafés have received NHS training in being Breastfeeding Friendly. Some of these cafés are even hosting mums2mums peer support meetings. If you want to know more about which cafés have achieved these awards, go to the website, twitter or Facebook pages.

Cafés are all staffed in different ways. Some have paid managers as well as volunteers, while others will run solely on volunteers. Volunteering itself comes in varying levels of knowledge and abilities. In most cafés, volunteers are central to the running of the enterprise and in return, cafés can provide volunteers with experience for a CV or developing new skills.

As there are 50 cafés running in Edinburgh at the moment, it is impossible to mention them all on here.  If you want to find a café near you or find out what different cafés have on offer then have a look on the network’s website on Twitter @EdinComCafeNet and on Facebook Edinburgh Community Cafes

However, if you’re not online look out for our Edinburgh Community Café Coffee Cup window sticker which all of our cafés display proudly.

This article was written for The Speaker Paper, Edinburgh, February 2016.