You will be forgiven to ask: “What is a Community Media Café?” This was also my question until I visited one, namely the Community Media Café on Bishop Street in Leicester. If you expected a posh café or coffee shop of the likes of Starbucks, Nero or Costa you couldn’t have been more wrong. The Community Media Café on Bishop Street operates from an old church. It actually takes place in the church itself, which is actually a beautiful venue. I was surprised to see a small alternative coffee bar serving, amongst the usual coffee, tea or hot chocolate, herbal teas, which even cannot be found at Leicester’s De Montfort University campus.

The Community Media Café provides a space for everyone

Moreover, the venue had many backrooms which were all bustling with various activities, a viable community hub so to speak. At the front, there were a number of tables, some for one or two persons and some larger arrangements with a settee and armchairs. And it was busy. Almost all tables were occupied, with people chatting over a cup of tea or coffee and there was even a gentleman who did some artistic drawings, being fully absorbed in his work. The atmosphere was peaceful and had a feel of an alternative gathering to it.

John Coster, who is the hidden hand behind all of this, had asked his first-year Communication Arts students to attend and speak with a number of regulars at the Cafe. Moreover, the second year students had the opportunity to organise such events on Tuesdays as part of their coursework. Unfortunately, I have not been able to attend any of these sessions as they are now coming to an end.

A group of students at the Community Media Café with Mark and Cath from the Leicester City Council’s Mental Health Team

Our first ‘chat partner’ at the table was Joan, John’s mother. She explained that she has been going to Community Media Cafés for many years. She enjoys these events because she is able to speak with a wide spectrum of young people who are otherwise not much inclined to speak to older or middle age people. There is clearly an age barrier. She particularly enjoyed speaking with the second year students because they spoke about cinema and books, which are her passions.

Joan noted in order to start a conversation at the bus stop, for instance, one has to often start speaking about the weather. This is particularly true when meeting older people. Speaking with the younger generation is much different. She, therefore, prefers the approach a Community Media Café can afford by directly speaking with younger people who she would otherwise have no access to.

Students prepare for a chat session with ‘regulars’ at the Community Media Café

This in itself validates Community Media Cafés on the whole because they provide opportunities for people to participate in a conversation, dialogue and opinion sharing. Joan felt older people are stuck in their house with little opportunities to engage in conversation, certainly not with younger people due to the age barrier (6:30-8:10), and may, therefore, feel isolated and lonely.

Regarding homelessness, Joan admitted that she had not spoken to any homeless person on the street, at least not in a deeper or more meaningful way, though she feels sorry for them. She is unsure if she should give them any money because they might use it to buy alcohol or drugs. Regarding a solution to homelessness, Joan feels the government should make provisions so people don’t need to sleep rough.

The conversation then moved on to Lea’s and Sheryl’s topic of domestic violence and anti-social behaviour and noisy neighbours to which Joan had her own story to tell.

Unfortunately, the conversation had been recorded on a mobile phone, which was wholly inadequate for such a noisy and chatty environment because the omnidirectional microphone picks up all the background chatter. Moreover, this type of background noise cannot be cleaned even with the best of audio software. The Zoom digital audio recorder would have yielded a much better result.

One can sit alone or in small groups at the Café

Our next ‘chat partner’ was Ineke. She made a clear distinction between anti-social behaviour and actual criminal behaviour, of which she had an explicit experience. Regarding homelessness, Ineke had no personal experience of it but she has worked with homeless charities and even went to the Leicester City Council to find answers. She said they have not at all been helpful so she wrote her own blog post, and it wasn’t a beautiful story for the council. Furthermore, she explained that it is very difficult to understand the issues connected with homelessness unless one has actually experienced it himself.

When asked what she thought about the Royal Wedding and the Windsor Council’s intention to clear all homeless people from the street she said they should not be removed but remain where they are.

Homeless people should be left were they are and should rather be incorporated into the event. This will provide a chance to educate the public that homelessness can happen to anybody. It is not a solution to erect bollards so they can’t lay down anywhere. Homeless people need shelter and they need hope. There are plenty of empty houses. – Ineke