The well-loved local café and community space 'Community at In Good Hands' on Frankwell roundabout will celebrate its tenth birthday next month. What is the secret to creating community and why is it important to locals? By Olivia Rose Barber.
As we mull over the day's events at In Good Hands - a Monday of back-to-back music sessions, Movie Music and Movement and Blue Cat’s band practice - Mark, a regular customer tells me, “every day is different here; it is special and unique."
He encapsulates what many people who step into this café seem to feel. Tucked away, just off Frankwell roundabout, this welcoming space is not your average café; you can stop here for your morning latte or while away an evening foot tapping along to a live band, but it has many layers in between.
When Tessa Kirk, a massage therapist, took on the lease at In Good Hands a decade ago, her massage business covered the rent. As In Good Hands’ ten year anniversary approaches on February 1st, the massage service is going strong and there is now a buzzing café-bar and community space. This had always been Tessa's plan, “My vision was always to create the café, a community sitting room where people could feel comfortable to talk about anything. It was just a matter of building it up incrementally.”
Julia Dean-Richards (left) and Tessa Kirk (right), owners of Community at In Good Hands café
Julia Dean-Richards, who forms the other half of the Community at In Good Hands duo, worked for some years in a community centre in the Black Country, first as a children’s playgroup facilitator and then as a teacher of English to speakers of other languages. Julia noted the importance of the community centre, as a social bolster, during the dramatic decline of the Black Country’s manufacturing industry through the 80s and 90s: “It was in an industrial area, the factories were shutting, new things were yet to arrive in their place. In difficult times, the community centre was an oasis.” In the last ten years, funding cuts have posed threats to the existence of youth and community centres, adult education facilities and libraries, “when things stop, people have nowhere to meet. It sends them back into their houses,” Julia adds.
Community at In Good Hands doesn't try to be a community centre, but it provides a much-needed space for people to interact. People can join in, or not. There's no pressure. It's somewhere relaxed and safe where they can be themselves. It is the kind of café where people greet each other when they walk in, names and stories are exchanged, and as they head for the door calling out 'see you soon', it means they'll be back: "There is no shortcut to growing community; it takes time,” Tessa says. “It’s about making an effort to say good morning to your neighbours. It’s about living in a place, then one day you connect over something that happens.”
Inevitably, keeping a community space going comes with challenges, which Tessa and Julia meet with creativity and resourcefulness. Tessa and Julia run live jazz sessions and a regular DJ night, Revolution Grooves. They also hold book talks, art exhibitions, singing sessions, and fundraising parties for charities like Shropshire Supports Refugees. They cover their costs via donations at events, selling food and drink in the café and hiring out the space to community groups. Tessa says: "Money was never the driving factor for me. I always wanted Community at In Good Hands to be independent and self-sustaining.”
Julia is involved with running Arty Party, an arts organisation for neuro-diverse and learning disabled artists. Arty Party runs a range of events at Community In Good Hands, including songwriting and jam sessions, and creative writing and craft workshops. The Blue Cat band (pictured below) performs their music to customers in the café and at gigs in town. Eve-Marie Washington, a singer and drummer, says: “I just love Blue Cat and all the people in the band. Playing music makes me feel cheerful and happy, and I like it because we are all together.” Ellie Taylor, a singer and songwriter in the band, shared her experience of Community at In Good Hands, “I love it here, everything about it. I’ve met lots of people at the café and made good friends.”
Andrea Pope-Smith is Eve’s mother and runs Tall Tale Tellers and Crafty Crafters, the creative writing and craft groups on Tuesdays. They had spent the morning busily making bracelets and necklaces, but have previously made things like fairy doors, angels, cards for birthdays, and carnival decorations. Their next project will be to make an ocean-themed tapestry. Andrea reeled off a long list of other craft ideas she has up her sleeve.
Crafty Crafters fosters creativity, practical skills and teamwork: "We work together, we help each other and chat while we’re working on projects.” Andrea added. “The café is an open space. We’ve performed our poetry to customers in the café and, sometimes, when we’re trying to think of a rhyming word for a line in a poem, customers chip in and help us.
“When you don’t have community, you don’t have a focus - We’re all floating pieces. When you engage in an activity, it brings everyone together around one point.”
As for the future, Community at In Good Hands has a dementia choir in the works and there are plans to open the community sitting room more in the evenings for music and workshops. As with all of their ventures, Tessa and Julia place emphasis on being flexible, trying out new things and seeing what works for the community.
Community at In Good Hands on Frankwell roundabout