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Cafe

Heritage (Interpretation) Café @ St. Mary’s Becontree

To view a booklet of some of the activities in the hub and further detaills of how this porject all began, please click here

Current Context

This café was set up to provide a pleasant and welcoming place for the church and local community members to come and enjoy each other’s company. It is a project run by volunteers. Initially the vision was to open the doors of the church more often to allow the community to be welcomed in to see the amazing interior by Cachmaille- Day. It is a self-funding initiative though donations from users, any small profit made is put back into making improvements to the environment or towards special events (e.g. MacMillan Grand Afternoon Tea event) The café se up and equipment was all funded during our first project  by Heritage Lottery and set up by the Heritage Officer with volunteer help.

The café sits within the north aisle of the church and is designed to enhance the original architecture and to show-case aspects of Cahemaille Days design by drawing people’s attention to the soaring roof space and the beautiful arches.

The café is run entirely on donations and the generosity of others. The equipment and furnishings in the café have been sponsored by the National Heritage Lottery. Over the past 12-18 months the café uses have developed and it is now used as a venue in which training events, meetings and discipleship courses take place. The café is used by both church members and members of the community. The café is also a key catalyst for major events and exhibitions in the church. It is also a hub in which the ideas and opinions of people can be collated and discussed. It’s also a good place just to sit and chat with people!

Many of the creative activities we run are sponsored by the Heritage Lottery Fund and throughout the year there are some planned joint church/heritage activities and events.

All donation are used to enable us to provide free tea and coffee and heavily subsidised refreshments.  Any profit from the café or any activities we support (e.g.’ card making) are given to St Mary’s Building Project- an exciting development the set- up of which was sponsored by National Heritage Lottery.

The café is currently open Wednesday and Thursday afternoons from 1.30 to 4.30. It is run by 3 main volunteers and has a team of 5 volunteers that can be drawn upon. At the time of writing there are between 40-80 people regularly using the café space each week. We have 2 discipleship courses running, a craft workshop and a local community group using it each week for a lifestyle club. The café is used as a hub for most events run by the church and is used at the two Sunday morning services for tea, coffee and chat.

INTERPRETATION of this space in the future

When considering the interpretation design, we looked at what had worked well in our current context and arrangements and talked to café users and members of the congregation and local teachers to collect their ideas and thoughts. The café has developed s ‘shabby chic’ style. The main comments from people using the church and attending events about how this facility should be in the future are as follows.

·         It needs to be comfortable

·         Needs to offer cheap refreshments

·         Needs to look interesting

·         Needs to be attractive, people need to feel at home

·         Exhibitions need to be changed often, maybe with some videos/slideshows

·         Book swap needed

·         Be good to sell crafts

·         Big enough to take a whole class of children to watch a film, listen to a talk or complete small group work

·         Flexible enough to be used for teaching, workshops and films

·         Must not interfere with the worship space

·         Must fit into the style/architecture of the church

·         Needs Wi-Fi

·         A place to be quiet

·         Activities

With all this in mind, the services of Allan Randall at Focus Learning and Interpretation have been engaged.

 

Main Space

The main space will normally be set out with a series of small tables and chairs (café style) but with the flexibility of being able to move furniture easily to make it into a conference style space for up to 40 people. Chairs and tables will be simple in design with chairs that can be stacked and tables that can be folded. There will also be a small sofa area for relaxed reading and to allow for more private conversation.

Between two of the three arches along the side of the north aisle will be pieces of free standing, bespoke black painted wooden display units (approximately 1.5 metres high). The Aisle will become a key central space to mediate between the main church and new hall.  Café function and worship space may at times need to be functioning together but separately.  This separation is implied by bookcases which divide the space without altering the existing fabric of the church.  Through this device the exhibition can be engaged with from both the Aisle and the worship space.  These units will house temporary displays and also artefacts from the church and local community. These units will help bridge the architectural gap between the more informal café area and the worship space and will provide a screen between the two spaces. These units may also house two smaller plasma screens for showing video footage or slide shows.

 The Aisle is also a key hub which can transform into an overflow space and / anteroom to the worship space and the new hall.  The bookcases have been designed to fold up to re-open the archways (to increase permeability) whilst keeping the key exhibition pieces on display.  

Kitchenette Facilities

The new building project will have a full kitchen facility, but due to the nature of the building the café will need its own facilities. These will be housed in a movable kitchenette trolley containing hot water equipment, microwave small sink and cupboard. This facility will also be available to use at large events when a coffee station is required as well as the full kitchen facilities and it will also be used on a Sunday morning for coffee. We have a trial version in place currently that is static. It is working very well.

Temporary Display/Exhibition space

One of the key requests from users is that displays change often and are generated by locals, for example local artists display/ children’s work/ craft group display/interesting facts about the church or members etc. The key driver is to move away from static and sterile displays but to create an engaging and adaptable resource that responds to the architecture of the church and also acknowledges that the church was built to serve a community which arrived on the construction of the post WWI housing estate. There is limited wall space as there will be doors from the café area into the new building in the future. By the use of a simple 1930s style ‘picture rail’ a series of professionally put together large picture frames fastened together in groups and with felt backed boards in them will allow for stylish, contained and practical exhibitions to be put together.

This is a flexible approach which will maximise the limited wall space and the styling will enhance even the most simply put together display. So the café area will have a combination of professionally put together display and those created by café users and community and put together by staff at the site.

Lighting

This area will be lit by using uplighters on the arches on the north aisle to show-off the architecture and lighting directed onto the exhibition surfaces. The interpretation wall will be spot lit. All lighting will be adjustable with colour filters and dimmers to adjust the atmospheric feel to the space. This lighting will be of the same specification as the main body of the church.

Evolving space and facility

The dynamic of the café has changed little since it opened but we are now developing our Thursday sessions into a quieter , more reflective space advertised as #space for me. This is to encourages people to come along with a book or to use our reflective space for personal reflection and thought- to have some time for themselves. We have developed a reflective space which is in the prayer corner for the church, This area is to be tented over so it is less freezing(!) and to become a more intimate space for people to engage in either with God or with their thoughts.