During Stress Awareness month, Fiona Mitchell takes a look at how one small weekly café in Hampton Hill is having a big impact on the lives of Carers….

The sunshine is blazing in through the enormous windows of the Carers Café — run every Thursday afternoon by Crossroads Care Richmond and Kingston — when I visit for the first time. Volunteers and staff from Crossroads Care are busy making coffees and chatting to the visitors who have arrived.

It immediately strikes me how welcoming this airy, lit-up space feels. That means that Carers who are accompanied by loved-ones, often living with dementia and all of its various symptoms, don’t need to feel in any way self-conscious. They can relax a little and chat, and enjoy the delicious lunch that warm and upbeat Project Coordinator Valerie Wisdom is putting together with her small team of volunteers.

Meanwhile, Crossroads Care Holistic Therapist Jess West is just about to set up the room adjoining this one in order to administer massage and reiki to today’s visitors.

I help myself to a sandwich and sit down at a long table surrounded by Carers, former Carers and people who are being cared-for. Today there are eleven people here, but often there are more.

‘It’s just nice to come along and get out for a bit,’ one lady, a former Carer, tells me. ‘And it’s good to be in a place where people understand what you’re going through.’

Volunteers listen and instigate chat; bags of crisps are munched, and an animated conversation ensues about the difference between chiropractors and osteopaths. We talk television and news, and many other subjects, but if you don’t want to talk here, that’s just fine too. One man sits ever so quietly eating a few little packets from the array of biscuits on the table.

What is clear, is that this is a safe place to build friendships, meet like-minded people, share experiences, coping methods and the stresses of everyday caring, for Carers to let go of their caring role for just a few hours, and not feel so alone and isolated.

And it’s not just the Carers and the people they care for that benefit from the café. A volunteer, Victoria, tells me that she loves coming to the café whenever she can. ‘It’s a lovely environment,’ she says. ‘We always comment on how uplifted we feel after being here.’

The mood is clearly catching. After having a massage, one elderly lady does a brief dance when she comes back into the main room to finish her lunch. Her eyes are bright, her smile that bit wider. Everyone around the table laughs.

I strike up a conversation with one Carer who is an avid reader and a member of a book group. Since I run the Carers Book Club for Crossroads Care, we have much to discuss. I now have several book recommendations and the lady has vowed to read our latest Carers Book Club choice.

The afternoon passes in a flash and soon, we are clearing dishes away and packing up the food. There are waves and calls of ‘see you next week’ as people file out onto the high street.

Even though most of the people here will be returning to their caring roles as soon as they step foot beyond the door, the café has relieved their stress for just a few hours. Small wonder then that Carers keep coming back.

The Carers Cafe is funded by Hampton Fund and the London Borough of Richmond upon Thames Active Richmond Fund and more recently, to meet demand, the Middlesex Province Relief Fund.

For more information about our Carers Café, click here,  email info@crossroadscarerk.org.uk or call 020 8943 9421.