Signal’s volunteer Felix gives his warm impressions of one of Signal’s partners in Shropshire…
Located in the plaza of the Riverside shopping centre, the Links Café serves as a peaceful stop for the weary travellers and busy shoppers of Shrewsbury and beyond. Greeted by smiling faces, one can’t help but feel welcomed by the staff of both the Links and its host, Signal. A non-profit organisation created to offer volunteering opportunities and all-important work experience to vulnerable adults, the Links Café is a brilliant example of the small social enterprises striving to make a difference in their communities.
Of course the Links Café is not new. It has been established within Shrewsbury for over three years, originating within the Central community building on Claremont Street, but at the start of this year it moved to Signal: The Hub in the Riverside centre, where a collaboration was established with the charity. Its new position is a brilliant seat for people watching through the fish tank windows that look into the busy shopping centre.
When talking to the customers within the café there is an overwhelming sense of positivity. I met a couple who had come to The Hub for a meeting with the audiologist and popped into the Links afterwards. They spoke of how warm an atmosphere there was in the café and The Hub, and of the relaxed nature of the setting with a great pairing of friendly staff and, of course, good teas, coffee and cakes. This attitude is to be found throughout the café – there is a real sense that, once customers find it, they become loyal patrons who are to be found sipping a cup of tea regularly from the window seat.
I spoke to Cheryl Middleton, one of the founders of the Links Café. She told me of how active it has been in the recruitment of new volunteers and that groups from local specialist schools are offered the chance of work experience. There is nearly always someone volunteering here, gaining new experience and skills behind the counter, which have happily proven to lead into employment. We spoke of the great co-existence between The Links and Signal as people would turn up for one and spot the other.
The Hub and Links Café have recently been officially declared a safe place, meaning they are a space where people can be confident that marginalisation and any form of discrimination are not accepted. As the name suggests, these safe places are where people of any walk of life can feel completely at home and safe. The café is also officially recognised as Makaton friendly, with Makaton sign language used and picture symbols being a key component of the menu’s layout. Heather Grainger, the café’s co-founder, too, is a trained speech and language therapist.
With a new group of volunteers it is clear to see that the Links Café is growing and growing, a presence on Tripadvisor.com not going unnoticed. A new loyalty card issued by Signal: The Hub now means that visitors who sign up can receive an initial free cup of tea or coffee. So, if you ever feel like sitting in a warm place with a warm cuppa watching the world go by, the Links Café is without a doubt the place to be.