I got chatting to Sue. She told me that I could get lunch here for £1.30, stew and mash and peas, and another course, soup or a pudding, for an extra 20p. She asked me if I have any brothers or sisters, and if I have a husband, boyfriend or children. “I prefer women”, I said. I see no reason not to be Out about this. No, I have no partner at the moment. Nor has she. “You can get cake over there”, she said. “It is free…. You can get a hot drink”. Actually, I did not want cake or coffee. I have just had a coffee- possibly I should have taken it, eating together is a way of bonding, possibly I was too shy to bond.
Sue ploughed on with the conversation. Do I watch Strictly? Dancing on Ice? Do I watch the soaps? No, actually. What have I watched recently? Borgen, it is a sort of Danish West Wing. I did not mention that, and that was all we had to talk about.
Cheryl is a volunteer here. “Some of the things which are completely obvious to us would not occur to these people”, she told me. One asked her if she should keep the heating on all the time. She said that should not be necessary. They got someone an emergency loan to pay rent, £60 for a room for a week. The person had to go to the jobcentre to pick up the money, and then take it round to the landlord. The jobcentre paid cash. This is stupid: people with addiction problems, the money does not get to the landlord. The jobcentre say that is the system, they cannot write a cheque. Cheryl talks to people here. Some of them play pool, sometimes there is Bingo. There is one small shelf of tins for sale, a few clothes, and- pot plants. “Do you know what to do with those beans? Soak them overnight, you can put them in stews,” she tells a customer. She does not work in the kitchen, she would need a hygiene certificate.
Actually, I like the atmosphere. It is completely friendly, though I have no desire to volunteer there. I was not the only posh person looking in: there are pupils from the fee-paying school, going to raise money. Last year they raised £2000. There is a support worker who does forms for people, the literacy standard is not high. There are notes of available jobs, from the jobcentre.
That part of the town is marked for development, so they may lose the centre on three months’ notice. Funding from the county is dried up, there is a bit of funding from the district, but that goes on the rent. They need a town centre place, these people will not walk up the estate, says the chairman. They get a little from the health service, because they do work with people with mental health issues, but for that sort of funding you have to jump through their hoops. He wants to get completely independent from public funds, they had a large grant from Lloyds TSB.