Visit to Coffee4Craig
*BUZZ* ... The back door opens and we meet our first host. Fashioning an apron he was clearly interrupted from his kitchen duties, but takes the time to introduce himself (Stuart), and lets us in to the building. When you first step into The Meanwhile you are hit by a comforting smell of a home cooked meal. It was 4pm on a Friday, so the place was empty of any guests, they open from 6pm to 8pm weekdays, and till 7pm weekends, 365 days a year. There are many Homeless support charities in Manchester that offer food and support, but Coffee4Craig is one of the only ones that is open in the evenings, filling a big hole in a support network for so many rough sleepers, and they do so much more.
Despite us being 2 hours early to see any guests, the office was busy with volunteers, the back door was buzzing with the occasional delivery from regular donors and Stuart, the chef, was baking in the kitchen. On Today’s menu was Beef Hotpot, Vegetarian Curry Pie and Crispy Chicken, with the very popular desert of Cake and Custard. We were told guests always have an option of 3 meals; having a choice of what to eat is one of the many things we all take for granted, an example of the many lengths Stuart and the team take to make the guests feel more human.
Elle comes down from the office to meet us, after introductions we start our tour in the Kitchen. A dozen pies to one side and at least another 40 more meals yet to come. Impressive given the size of the kitchen, no more than your home domestic kitchen. Elle tells me her passion project at the minute is to upgrade this kitchen to include high spec restaurant quality equipment, so they have the tools they need to run efficiently, no limitation, to feed everyone. I was with my friend Chris, being a chef himself he was talking shop with Stuart whilst he cooked. Unfortunately their conversation went over my head as my kitchen skills ends at pealing a banana (its all in the wrist).
We’re shown the dining area, that can seat 25 at a time, a tea station where the guests apparently go through more sugar than an army of diabetic Oompa Loompa’s, a book shelf with puzzles magazines and board games. I was told over Christmas there was multiple games of chess happening at the same time, that evolved into an unofficial mini tournament. This may sound trivial, but I think about times where I’ve had to wait for a bus, only 10 minutes, in the cold and rain, turns me miserable until I can get home and dry. For these guests that is their life. Coffee4Craig offers a respite from that. Someplace they know they can go, everyday, for a hot meal, a warm place to sit down and interact with other human beings in a safe environment, even play games! It’s a comforting thought knowing they have this place.
A heart warming place but with tragic foundations. We were given the story of the founders late brother, Craig, who inspired the charity. I cannot give the story any justice by summarising it here in a blog post, but suffice to say it is a story shared by so many other guests. The Meanwhile is situated across from Strangeways Prison, and rightly so, as newly rehabilitated inmates are the most vulnerable demographic to addiction and substance abuse. For that reason they are targeted by drug pushers. I was then educated on the most frequent problem these guests face, cuckooing.
“when criminals target the home of a vulnerable person, often so they can use the property for criminal purposes”. If a street homeless person is lucky enough to be eligible for social housing, they are then targeted by gangs and dealers, who will take their home, through force, intimidation or just manipulation, putting them back on the street. Scared of repercussions if they disagree, and now with nowhere to turn as the support system believes they are homed. There are safeguarding measures to avoid this, but unfortunately it is still a common threat.
The tour continues upstairs, we see the pantry, filled with donations from individuals and unsold stock from shops and restaurants. Enough milk to drown a house, but we were told they will go through it all in a snap. They have showers and whole heap of clothes donations, neatly organised and categorised. Though guests can take anything they need, it is all logged who has taken what, so they know which individuals need what items.
They even have a medic room, where guests can go and get checked out for any ailments or injuries they are suffering. We were told one of the most common issues is trench foot. In 2022 people are still suffering trench foot! This triggered me to bring up FunGiraffle’s donation of 180 pairs of socks and 60 pairs of gloves. Requested items on their wish list: https://www.amazon.co.uk/hz/wishlist/genericItemsPage/38LQVZYAYY4F3
Other donations they are in constant need of is:
Instant Custard Powder (of course)
And Hot Chocolate
We ended the tour with what I thought was the best service they offer. Free haircuts. Unlimited, any day, any style, FOR FREE! We were told of one guest (a fellow sufferer of OCD like myself) gets a haircut every week. I on the other hand only find the courage twice a year (not a fan of scissors near my ears). They have the full barbers set up, with an illuminated framed mirror and a proper barbers chair, but best of all, a qualified barber, Elle herself. I won’t tell Elle’s full story here but I will try to summarise. Elle quit her corporate job in dramatic fashion, to learn to become a barber! But 1 week after graduating, the world decided to break and we were flung into our first lockdown; she decided to offer her skills to C4C. Almost 2 years later and now Executive Assistant she practically runs the show (if anything needs doing, Elle is your woman). Despite how clearly busy her and the entire team are though, she still offers these free cuts to all guests. Super hero.
So much more can be said about Coffee4Craig and the team, the family dynamic, the supportive and understanding culture, guests who made it off the streets and are now regular volunteers... I was only there an hour and I feel I could write a novel on this place (granted it would be poorly written, but I try). I hope this has given a small insight into the amazing work coffee4Craig do, and if you want to learn more, donate or offer a helping hand please see their website and social accounts below: