Words by Amanda Eleftheriades
Photos by Caroline Finn
“I came in here by myself the first time, that was a biggy for me because I suffer badly from depression.
“It’s great because it gets you away from the four walls and everyone is so welcoming.”
Christine is back to Old Kilpatrick’s Chatty Café for a return visit with friends Fran and Linda and the women enjoy a catch-up over a cuppa and some home-baking.
With ribbons of twinkling fairy lights and paper lanterns hanging from the ceiling, tropical grass garlands cheering up the walls and comfy couches taking centre stage, it’s easy to see why the space lifts Christine’s mood.
But spend time in the Chatty Café and it’s clear, it’s not just the cushions sending out positive vibes.
A Little TLC – Tender Loving Community
Just six months ago this former plastics factory was an empty, leaky hangar.
It has been transformed into a vibrant community hub with the help of many pairs of hands.
Each volunteer or helper brings with them their own skills and experiences which they share, along with old buttons, unwanted fire doors and ceiling panels.
Nothing goes to waste. Everything finds a purpose.
The buttons get used by the knitting group and the local Men’s Shed create a partition between kitchen and toilet so plans for cooking classes should get the thumbs-up from Environmental Health.
Before they leave Fran signs up for the ukulele class and offers to run an art group, Christine buys a rain cover for her mobility aid so she can join the walking group and the trio contemplate coming to the next Ladies Night.
Meanwhile on the comfy couches Pat and Joan McKenna enjoy their first visit to the Chatty Café.
“We were surprised how big it is and how much activity is going on here,” said Joan who makes cards to help with charity’s fundraising.
“Having the fruit and veg stall is a great idea as well. Everyone here is so friendly you wouldn’t mind coming here by yourself, we’ll definitely be back.”
Changing Life Plans
Creating this community space is a labour of love for Maureen Cummings and husband Gordon, who sank their life savings into the venture.
The OK Community Hub extends the OK Food Parcels charity, they set up to help locals struggling to get food during lockdown.
While running OKFP they realised many people they helped needed much more than food.
Maureen explained: “There are a lot of people living on their own, they don’t have anyone to talk to from one day to the next – that was where the idea for the Chatty Café came from.
“Before Covid we had a five-year plan, we were going to sell up and move to Lanzarote and were saving up for this.
“At the start of the year I lost my job and had a breakdown. Gordon said ‘we have the money put aside to start a new life, let’s start it here’.
“So, we took a leap of faith and used our savings to fund the rent of this building and get the place kitted out.
“I just love it. It gives me a reason for getting up in the morning and we reach people on so many levels.
“It’s not just about the food, the pleasure people get from coming in here is clear. There is no judgement or stigma to the food parcels because you could be in here for a million reasons and no-one will question you.”
What is proving therapeutic for Maureen is also helping her ever-growing team of volunteers.
“We have over 30 volunteers now, we’re each of us perfectly flawed, each with our own individual issues – both life and pandemic-related.
“None of us knew the others before but we’ve gravitated to each other and together we seem to be creating something special.”
Almost on cue, volunteers Mags and Michaela arrive to see what help is needed.
Mags contacted the OK Food Parcel service when she was shielding during the first lockdown.
Unable to leave the house and without online banking she struggled to get food deliveries suitable for her health needs.
Maureen took care of that and now with restrictions easing, Mags is a regular volunteer and supporter of the Community Pantry which runs out of the Hub.
She explained: “I was isolated for one and a half years and have just started coming in here.
“I help with the Pantry making up bags or just whatever needs done.
“When I was in isolation I couldn’t get out to pay my bills and I didn’t do online banking.
“Maureen set up everything, all my direct debits and Gordon delivered my food every week.
“It’s been a lifeline for me and now through coming here I get to meet other volunteers who have taken me to the hospital appointments and help shuffle me about the place.
“I don’t know how I would have survived without Maureen and this place.”
It was through volunteering she met Michaela, who herself struggled with anxiety and isolation, exacerbated by the pandemic.
The pair became friends and help each other get through their individual struggles.
Mags added: “We’ve been on wee day trips together, I went to the beach for the first time in 25 years – this has opened a lot of doors for me.”
And for Michaela the Chatty Café, Community Pantry and Community Hub activities helped with her own anxieties.
“I moved up from the Borders three years ago and wouldn’t come out of the house but Maureen kept asking me to get involved.
“I was too anxious at first but I started volunteering this year and I don’t know what I would have done without it.
“I love it here, there’s something quite magical about it.”
The Chatty Café is open from 12 – 4pm Monday – Friday.
For details of groups and classes on during the week visit OKFP Hub and Community Pantry or pop into Unit 5, Station Road Industrial Estate, Old Kilpatrick, G60 5LP.
Local Community Hubs & Spaces in WD
Cutty Sark Centre, 58 Howatshaws Road, Bellsmyre, Dumbarton G82 3DR – Community Hub run by the Bellsmyre Development Trust
Phoenix Centre, 17a Quarry Knowe, Castlehill Dumbarton G82 5AF – Community Hub and Café for Dumbarton West run by the Rock Community Church
Centre 81, 2 – 16 Braes Ave, Whitecrook, Clydebank – Community Café, meeting rooms and activities run by Centre 81 Steering Group in partnership with Clydebank Housing Association
Clydebank Community Sports Hub, 60 Deans Street, Clydebank – indoor and outdoor sports hub, kitchen and social space
Awestruck Art Gallery, 36 Sylvannia Way, Clydebank G81 1EA – creative arts and media centre with Community Café
Melfort Park, 18 Clarence St, Clydebank G81 2HU – outdoor learning space and allotments
Renton Community Integration Project, Glenview Renton – a community garden hub for the people of Renton