The Salvation Army in Aberdeen has launched a new Friday cafe aimed at creating opportunities for the people it supports.
The Manna Cafe has been set up at the Citadel on the Castlegate to provide good quality, affordable food for the local community – while doubling as training hub for volunteers. The cafe is the idea of Ronnie Boyle, the Salvation Army's specialist Drug and Alcohol worker. As a qualified social worker, Ronnie runs the Recovery Programme to offer practical support and find the best way to encourage people with addiction issues to consider taking steps toward recovery.
Ronnie is hoping the new cafe, which runs every Friday from 10am to 2pm, will create opportunities to enable people to make positive changes to their lives.
He said: "It's more than just a cafe. It's a place of opportunity where people can come along and we will treat them with respect, with dignity. We will show them the love that some people don't get the chance to experience.
“The name of the cafe is taken from the Israelites crossing the desert and the manna from heaven. I think it fits well because it's about offering people various opportunities – with food being one of them.
“It's a bonding between the church, community and volunteers. But the main focus is to help volunteers who have come through addictions, are struggling to get jobs or haven't worked for a long time. The biggest thing I hope for is that the volunteers benefit from being part of a team, to work and not be judged.
“We’ll also provide support to inmates who have been released from prison on a Friday. They can come in with their Throughcare support worker and get a free meal to set them up for the day.
“We’ll have a Scripture reading section, a chill-out section and a section where people can look use our laptop and printer to find employment.
“I’ll encourage the volunteers not to have anyone sitting at a table on their own for too long – to go and chat to them because they might be looking for help but are too embarrassed to ask.”
Underpinning Ronnie's work is the Salvation Army's Scotland Drug and Alcohol Strategy, which has also positioned support workers in Falkirk, Greenock and Stirling. A centre for addiction services and research was set up at the University of Stirling in 2017 with the aim of preventing substance use problems and reduce harms for individuals, their families and communities.
The central aim of the Salvation Army’s recovery model in Aberdeen is harm reduction through community support. That involves behavioural skills, social and recreational counselling, employment skills and relationship counselling.
“We do everything we can to reach the whole person”, says Ronnie. “Even when they don’t believe in themselves anymore. We look at all areas of a person's life to try and understand their addiction and how it could affect their children or other family members.
“Being able to share my own lived experience of addiction is also helpful. It gets people’s attention and they understand that I’m not preaching to them.
“People would ask me why I drank. I had no idea why. I drank because I was addicted. I couldn't go and have two pints and go away and be happy. There was something lacking. I have other siblings who didn't abuse alcohol so I'm interested in exploring why people are affected by addiction more than others.”
Ronnie is hoping the people of Aberdeen will get behind the new cafe and is calling on local chefs to think about volunteering an hour or two of their time each week. He also says there is growing a need for new socks and underwear – and with Father’s Day just around the corner, Ronnie would be happy to accept any unwanted gifts.