Cornerstone cafe providing lifeline for Boro community
A Middlesbrough café, which has become a lifeline for the community, says its support is more crucial than ever as many people emerge nervously from lockdown.
Jean’s Kitchen, the cornerstone of the Dundas Indoor Market for more than 20 years, has always been a popular place to meet for a cuppa or a bite to eat.
Nearly five years ago, in partnership with the Ageing Better Middlesbrough programme, it was chosen to host a monthly get-together to help the town’s older people who might be feeling lonely or isolated.
Dozens came along and developed lasting friendships, but the gatherings had to be stopped because of the pandemic.
Now, though, they are being revived and – with the six-year Ageing Better Middlesbrough project heading towards its end – the managers of the market and cafe decided it was vital to extend their invitation to an event which will now be known as Jean’s Community Cuppa.
As before it will take place on the third Wednesday of each month from 10am to noon. But this time people of all ages – not just the over 50s – are invited and everybody gets a free cup of tea or coffee.
Ann Goodison and her sister Josie Aspland joined the group from the start. Even though Ann, who works in a care home, has a big family she said she enjoyed making new friends and urged people – particularly anybody who might have spent lockdown alone – to come along.
“I’m sure there are men and women who have been too scared to go outside and too scared to ask for help,” said Ann. “They have been stuck inside staring at the same four walls. Everybody needs interaction with other people.”
She added: “It’s so welcoming and relaxed coming here – just like going to a friend’s house.” Ann, Josie and the other regulars are also looking forward to socialising outside their meetings at Jean’s Community Cuppa. Before lockdown they organised meals and trips.
Louise Matthews, who has been the café’s manager for 26 years, said even though it looks like the worst of the pandemic is over its impact will be felt for a long time to come.
“It’s been a difficult time for everybody but we’ve got to stay positive. If anything, the last year has brought people closer together and made us appreciate what we have,” she said.
“It’s lovely to see the group coming back. They’re not just people who live on their own but it’s really beneficial for those who do. Men come along as well, and people bring old photos and books about Middlesbrough, talk about families, gardening and anything really.”
Louise said Jean’s Kitchen and its seven staff represented a lifeline for a lot of people in their local community. Before the pandemic two customers came to the café every day. During lockdown Louise delivered food to one of them and visited the other when he ended up in hospital.
In September 2019 Louise and three other women from the café took part in the Great North Run and raised nearly £3000 for the James Cook University Hospital.
Market Manager David Harris said: “It’s really important, more so than ever, that the project we started with Ageing Better Middlesbrough continues. Jean’s Kitchen was the right location and Louise and her team have really helped to make it work.
“They care about the people in this community – whether that’s sitting down for a chat over a cup of tea or running 13 miles.”
He added: “We know people are still nervous about coming into the town centre and we know many of them have had a terrible time, but they’ll get both understanding and a warm welcome when they come to Jean’s Community Cuppa.”