The organisers of Monday’s inaugural Let’s Chat! event – (from left) Havana Frakes, Lisa Cathro, Wilma Burnett and David Anderson. Pic: Danil.

Four St Andrews-based organisations, including social enterprise We Are Zest, have teamed up to launch a new twice-weekly ‘friendship café’ event to help locals and students overcome loneliness and isolation made worse by lockdowns with coffee and chat.

On Monday (September 27), the first of the two-hour Let’s Chat! drop in/out events will take place at the North East Fife Community Hub, on Albany Park, from 10am till noon.

Anyone wanting to make new friends is encouraged to come along and sit at one of the tables marked with a ‘Let’s Chat!’ sign – where volunteers and other people will be waiting with a hot drink and the same desire to make new connections and regain confidence in going out.

The event will alternate between the Hub on Mondays and social enterprise Zest Café on South St on Thursdays 5-7pm to make it as accessible as possible for people feeling isolated.

Affects all ages and backgrounds

Loneliness has soared as a result of the pandemic’s lockdowns and affects people from all backgrounds including students, for whom there are fewer organised social events after First Year, especially postgraduates.

For some time Zest, which helps young people with additional support needs gain or keep meaningful employment by training them in hospitality skills, has been wanting to host a regular evening event to address loneliness by creating a regular opportunity to meet new people in an informal safe space.

Owner Lisa Cathro heard from retiree Wilma Burnett about the Chatty Café Scheme – which allows venues to mark tables as ones for those wanting to make new friends. Lisa then approached the community hub about co-hosting something similar.

Soon after, Lisa met Senga Smith from Link Befriending – which enables volunteers to help adults isolated through mental health problems – and she agreed café events would be a good idea.

Finally, Zest was approached by Havana Frakes from the university’s Populus Society – which aims to ease student isolation – and she too was keen for her organisation to be involved for the benefit of the young people it helps.

Event agreed

Before long, Lisa, Wilma, Senga, and Havana arranged a meeting with hub Project Co-ordinator David Anderson to discuss setting up their own regular chat event and Monday’s launch of Let’s Chat! was agreed.

Initially funded by Zest, generous marketing support has already been provided by Ryman St Andrews in the form of pro bono printing and the organisers plan to apply to local charitable trusts to meet future funding needs.

Speaking about the new event, Lisa Cathro said: “As a local independent business we are so grateful for the huge community support we’ve had over the past few years. We’d love to give some of that back and help people connect. We love working collaboratively with not only the amazing local resource that is the new NEF Community Hub but also with our student community through Populus, both of whom share our vision and mission.”

David Anderson said: “Let’s Chat is about what we’re trying to achieve here at the Hub – bringing people together for a blether in a safe, friendly, welcoming place with no discrimination or judgement. The Let’s Chat! tables encourage customers to join strangers knowing they will find a listening ear, and why not a friend? Our area of town badly needs this, so we’re delighted to be supporting the event.”

Havana Frakes said: “Everyone needs human connection, in one form or another, but meeting new people is always challenging and Covid has exacerbated that in a way which affects all ages and social groups. It makes great sense to provide everyone with an venue and format designed to help them form new connections.”

Wilma Burnett said: “I wanted to be involved in something like this because I am keenly aware it is all too easy to become quite isolated at any time in your life no matter who you are or what your background is. Breaking down the barriers of isolation can be extremely difficult, but people can be helped with this if they have somewhere to go where they will have guaranteed company in a regular, public setting.

“Maybe just for that short time they can then feel a sense of belonging and that no matter what’s happening in the background for them, no-one else who is there needs to know. It’s perfectly acceptable for that shared time to be enjoyable, fun and an escape from the everyday pressures we all face.”