A café which provides confidence-boosting work experience for young people with mental health issues is ready to open again with help from a coronavirus fund grant.
The Olive Tree Café in Cheney Manor is part of The Recovery Tree charity, which also operates the TWIGS gardens.
The charity has been awarded three grants totalling more than £10,000 from the Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund to cover the cost of staying in touch with 80 volunteers who have been unable to work at the café while it was closed during the pandemic.
The grants also paid for home gardening kits for TWIGS volunteers, craft sessions for them, portable toilets for the café when it reopened for takeaways and training for staff and volunteers ahead of its welcoming back customers to eat in.
Trustee Gillian Barber said being able to stay in touch with the volunteers and hold craft sessions for them at the café, had eased the anxiety caused by the lockdown.
She added: “It has been very difficult for the volunteers who have been unable to come in and join us, which is why we have been running the craft sessions every Monday to have them in to make something and see their friends.
“The Wiltshire Community Foundation grants have made a terrific, positive impact on the lives of lots of young volunteers who have been on their own for seven months or who haven’t been able to see their friends.
"It helped them to survive until we were in a position to be able to invite them back to work in the café.”
The café had been opening from Thursday to Saturday for takeaways but, said Mrs Barber, it is now set to open six days a week.
“We have organised the kitchen and the cafe to allow for social distancing and we have tables at the appropriate distance with screens and a limited menu," she added. "We will also have an online booking system so people can book ahead."
The excitement of reopening will help staff recover from the shock of a break-in earlier this month when thieves broke in by smashing their way through a patio door, stole £400 worth of stock and threw food and drink around.
“It hit the staff hard and made and generated a lot of anger in all sorts of people,” said Mrs Barber. “But I always say ‘when it’s dark, look for the stars’ and we’ve had unbelievable support from the community since the break-in.
“The fact that people want to support us over this and the kind things that they say shows us how valued the café is, and it has been really good for the staff to see how much all the work they put in is valued.”
Two Go Fund Me pages, started by the café and by Voluntary Action Swindon chairman Pam Webb, have raised more than £3,000 between them.
“The support has been wonderful and all of the heart-warming comments people have left and the clear appreciation of the café have meant so much to the staff and the trustees,” said Mrs Barber.
She and the staff are looking forward to welcoming back volunteers to the café and TWIGS.
“Our café manager, Phyllida Roberts, has been ringing the volunteers and planning with them for when they come back because we can only have a couple at a time. She was running the craft sessions for them and has been working really hard to keep in touch.
“The staff are totally committed to what they are doing and to all the volunteers who work there or who have worked there.”
The charity, founded in 1997, takes referrals from places including the Job Centre and Crowdys Hill Special School for young people who would benefit from working in the kitchens or the gardens.
Mrs Barber said: “Places like the Job Centre who refer young people to us do so they know we have this wisdom around poor mental health.
"When Crowdys Hill Special School have students who are ready for work experience they know they will be safe and protected with us.”
There are 23 part-time staff, many of whom began there as volunteers.
Mrs Barber added: “Seeing them go out into jobs of their own or going to help other people is amazing.
“The secret of the success here is that we are answering a very clear and unmet need and also the commitment of the managers of the two projects and the staff we employ to work with them.
"The need of mental health is undervalued and in Swindon the needs are high. There aren’t that many opportunities for people who suffer from it to work and develop.
“We enable people to grow in a safe place where they feel they are valued and where they belong and that is such an important element of the way the café and TWIGS operates.
“The Wiltshire Community Foundation grants have made things so much easier for us, but they have also been really inspirational and affirming for the staff and trustees to know that their work is valued sufficiently to have received this funding.
“It is wonderful and we are very grateful.”
The cafe's website theolivetreecafe.org.uk
The Wiltshire Community Foundation’s Coronavirus Response and Recovery Fund has raised more than £1.1 million and distributed more than £750,000 to 200 voluntary groups across the county to help them tackle the fallout from the pandemic.
Interim co-chief executive Fiona Oliver said: “We are so pleased to support this important project that meets a real need in the community.
"We want to see as many groups as possible getting back to normal as quickly as possible which is why this fund is so vital.”
Information about the community foundation’s Wiltshire and Swindon Coronavirus Response Fund can be found at wiltshirecf.org.uk