It takes a village to make a Warm Welcome

It takes a village to make a Warm Welcome

The Friendship Café in the village of Alford in Aberdeenshire is providing a valuable Warm Welcome Space, thanks to support from the local Rotary club.

Community, laughter, and friendship are at the heart of the Friendship Café Warm Welcome Space in the small rural village of Alford in Aberdeenshire. It’s a partnership approach bringing leaders of St Andrews Episcopal Church together with Alford and District Rotary Club and local businesses.

Rotary in Great Britain and Ireland is the volunteer partner for the Warm Welcome Spaces campaign 2023/24.


The whole community gets involved

Their vibrant space, always full of joy and laughter, is supported by the local community – interest and support are growing. The local Co-op has assigned its Community Champion to help out; the convenience store donates newspapers and ‘butteries’ (Aberdeenshire rolls); local caterers donate individual sweet treats; the Rotary club helps with funding, publicity, and transport – (helping the Church group which provides a free taxi service to make sure everyone can get to the warm space.).

Individual volunteers from the village also offer support by means of cash donations, soup, home bakes and other contributions, enhancing the regular menus on offer.


Going from strength to strength

The project started last year, initiated by St Andrew’s Church, and after a slow start began to develop and grow, trying to draw in anyone seeking company, for whatever reason, in a warm space where hot food and fellowship are on offer, free of charge.

It soon became clear that in order to sustain things, and move onward, the best way forward in a small organisation, was to seek partners to share in the enterprise. Consequently, and now under the Warm Welcome Campaign banner, the Café, run by a small team, together with a group of regular, enthusiastic volunteers, is going from strength to strength, with the support of the local Rotary Club, and local businesses – everyone is happy to step up and help.

A small dedicated team runs things, from funding to all the behind-the scenes tasks necessary to make things happen.”


Buzzing with life and celebrations

The Friendship Café is buzzing with life, joy, and celebration – from Christmas lunches to Burns’ Night and Valentine’s Day – there-s always something to celebrate.

The Café makes the effort to remember regulars’ birthdays; one of the team makes a special, personalised card; a birthday cake is supplied, and of course, everyone sings!  Last week, two regular guests, who discovered that, at 92, they shared exactly the same birthday (day and year), were duly recognised.

Two visitors to The Friendship Café enjoy sharing their birthday celebrations together.

Rural challenges

Sometimes there are difficulties to be overcome. A team member explained, “We’re based in a small church in a rural setting, and travel can be challenging, especially for older people and anyone with mobility issues.”

Alford winters can be long and harsh and people can feel isolated, especially when roads and pavements are snow-covered and icy. The Café has a rota of volunteers who assist with transport, to make sure no-one misses out. When anyone is ill, and cannot attend – a ‘takeaway’ is offered and delivered, to ensure the connection is not lost.


A warm welcome for everyone

The Café is truly inclusive, in that everyone is welcome – a group of ‘regulars’ has emerged, who have now got to know each other and are now friends. A succession of ‘drop-in’ regulars are drawn in, no doubt by the appetising aromas of hot soups and home bakes on the cold winter air, and most return from time to time.

Local organisations such as the Health Centre, shops and individuals encourage anyone they think might benefit, or be interested in what the Café has to offer, to try it out.

Everyone receives a warm welcome – this year’s age range of guests runs from a ten-month old baby to a ninety-four-year-old lady. Although targeted towards helping mental health and rural isolation, everyone comes for their own reasons. One lady, who previously had not left her own home for four years, is now a regular, and is the official soup taster!

The Café is truly inclusive, in that everyone is welcome.”


Blurring lines

Everyone, guests, and volunteers alike, intermingles – important in the Friendship Café vision, is that volunteers sit at tables and chat with everyone, sharing the food and the good company. So much so, that lines between hosts and guests are blurring with many new friendships being formed.  One such, perhaps unlikely friendship, is that of a volunteer twenty-year old young man, who is neurodivergent, with a ninety-one-year-old lady who is visually impaired. They sit together every week, catching up with each other’s news.

Some visitors, keen to make a contribution, have become helpers too, in that they provide soups, baking and help in the kitchen, tidying up or just making new guests feel at home.

Board games are on hand, and a copy of the local newspaper, in case anyone is interested, and, because St. Andrew’s Friendship Café takes place in a church, guests are offered a space for quiet contemplation or prayer if they so wish.

The Friendship Café brought visitors together over Christmas.


Everyone’s contribution is valued

The Café is truly a community project with everyone’s contribution valued. A small dedicated team runs things, from funding to all the behind-the scenes tasks necessary to make things happen – regularly supported by volunteers from the church congregation and from main partners Alford Rotary Club.  Although the usual rotas are drawn up, in truth, everyone multi-tasks, and mucks in.

It is truly heart-warming to witness the warmth, friendship, mutually caring atmosphere, and laughter which have developed, from a formerly disparate group of people, many of whom live alone.  Being Aberdeenshire, much of the conversation is in the native dialect of Doric, and, although there is no direct translation of ‘Warm Welcome’, guests are bidden to the table in traditional north-eastern way, by ‘Come awa’ in, si’ doon, an’ tak’ aff yer jaiket.’

At the heart of this project lies love and respect for everyone, and a village partnership in trying to look after each other. The Friendship Café is thriving – a warm welcome is assured – everyone loves it – just read the comments in the’ Friends Book!


Selection of quotes from the Friends’ Book

  • “Bless your kind hearts”
  • “Thank you chatty Café. Bless you all”
  • “I come here as it gets me out of the house which keeps me sane and keeps my mind busy”
  • “I like coming to the Café. Very good and friendly”
  • “Always find something to smile about”
  • “Love is all around in this place”


To find a Warm Welcome Space in your area, or to volunteer at an existing space, visit their website.