Hope’s Café is a "pay what you can afford" eatery open to anyone in the community who just wants to feel as though they belong.
Mikey Nicholson

11 May 2016 - 11:55 AM  UPDATED 11 May 2016 - 3:23 PM

There’s not a free parking space in sight. It’s as full as many patrons are hoping their bellies will be after lunching on all that Hope’s Café is about to serve. And you just know it’s going to be good when there’s a crowd forming.

An initiative of Uniting Communities, with the support of Clayton Wesley Uniting Church in Adelaide's Beulah Park, Hope’s Café is a place for people to come together to help each other make a better community.


“Hope's Café provides friendship, a pleasant stimulating environment for which money is not a prerequisite and the opportunity to be part of a community,” David Winderlich Service Manager and Advocacy Campaigns Officer explains to SBS. “These things are vital for a dignified and fulfilled life but they out of reach for many Australians on low incomes and take years for new migrants and refugees to build up. And as they are harder to measure they are not supported by Government funding.

“Community building, or community development as an approach to assisting people in need, has a long history in community services and social change movements. The growth of café culture has prompted new thinking about the need of people to come together face to face in what is called a ‘third space’, neither work nor home," he says.

“The Minister at Clayton Wesley Uniting Church and the Uniting Communities both have an interest in these ideas and when space became available and an influx of asylum seekers demanded a new response, Hope's Café was the result.”

In times of uncertainty and with growing needs for community services, Hope's Café has been the answer when required. “For the first two years, when asylum seekers were not allowed to work, Hope's Café was vital to many Iranians in particular,” Winderlich explains. “150 would attend on a Friday and about half that number on a Wednesday. Numbers have dropped once work has become possible for this group and the café clientele has become more mixed. There’s now a sprinkling of Africans, low-income Australians and other groups attending English classes and other services. But 60 refugees a week still attend Hope’s Café and they are supported by many volunteers.”

Buzzing around the space are an army of staff, volunteers, customers and refugees alike. If you didn’t know any better, you’d think this was one of Adelaide’s most profitable cafés. 

Mahroo, an Iranian refugee, helps with the coordinating of the café and loves helping in the kitchen making vegetarian salads for the hungry masses. For her, arriving in Adelaide over three years ago meant finding herself in detention and then, once allowed to join the community, in a position where she had to fend for herself with little support.  

That’s where Hope’s Café stepped in. 

“The Uniting Communities are very helpful to refugees and asylum seekers, sometimes with clothes and sometimes they help with costs,” she says.

“I was able to connect with different communities and Hope's Café is a very nice place for asylum seekers and refugees. It has different types of conferences and seminars and classes. It’s a great program.”

Dak, a quiet and unassuming man from Southern Sudan, uses his time as a student to volunteer with Uniting Communities to gain experience for his degree in social services. He’s also a big advocate for why Hope’s Café is so important.

“They've got humanity here at Hope's Café,” he politely explains between mouthfuls as we sat around a big communal table while a group of advocates engaged in political discussion. “They treat people with humanity, like the food that we eat, you pay what you've got. You don't have [enough] you don't have to pay and there's no limit so you can have as much as you want. And they will not be running out of the food. That's why Hope's Café is the best of the best.”


The humanity Dak speaks of might come in the form of an affordable and delicious lunch or it might come in the shape of legal help from a volunteer law student. 

Riley is in his third year of law at the University of Adelaide and his role is to help people navigate the bureaucracy of migration. Although he’s a student and can't give actual legal or migration advice, he can help people who are confronted with certain situations and point them in the right direction. 

"We see a lot of people who are trying to prepare to make an application for a protection visa and they're not quite sure what they need to get together and what steps they need to take, so that's something we can help them with,” he says.

“What's really satisfying to help with is that we've had people come in with visa applications that have been rejected twice, which means they're no longer entitled to Centrelink, and we've been able to help them get on to Band 5 payments which are available to people who can't get Centrelink.”

And he’s already looking ahead to how his experience helping people at Hope’s Café can form part of his legal career. “I’m really interested in migration law because I think it's the area in Australia where there has been a fundamental conflict between what the law says and morality. It's an incredibly complex area where you have people trying to deal with a system that is stacked against them.”

"It’s joyful to see so many of the refugees here being able to come from outside and converse together."

Quietly sitting amongst all the hustle and bustle is soon-to-be 92-year-old Gilford. He’s been a member of the Church since 1959 and makes it his mission to come every Friday for a prayer meeting and then sticks around to watch the craziness of Hope’s Café unfold. “I enjoy seeing what's going on. Of course it's a language learning business here which leaves me flat,” he says in between chuckles. “I have a job trying to communicate with a lot of people here. But it’s joyful to see so many of the refugees here being able to come from outside and converse together, they get a great joy out of it and just watching them is good enough [for me].”

Don’t worry, he also loves the opportunity to share lunch with everyone. “There's so many marvellous varieties of foods. I have a bit of just about everything and I haven't had anything I don't like. It's a good meal for me which on my own I can't prepare the same. It's wonderful what goes on here and I like seeing it all over the years.”


The one person who keeps a watchful eye on the entire moving feast of Hope’s Café is the lead coordinator, Rebecca Walker. Getting on board when the café was merely months old, Rebecca never has a run-of-the-mill day when ruling the roost. “There is no average day. I arrive with a set list of things I'd like to get done in the day and things that have to get done but we don't know what's going to happen,” she says. “One of the wonderful things about Hope's Café is that anyone is welcome. With that, we don't know what is going to happen. It might be that I have to deal with somebody that is extremely distressed or I might have to deal with having no volunteers, or some times too many volunteers. I never know what it's going to be.”

You begin to understand why it’s the quieter Wednesdays that hold a special place in her heart. “[On Wednesdays], people get to really talk and you get to hear people's stories and you get to understand people better. Wednesdays are about the quiet regulars coming, sitting and talking.” 

“We have a lot of local people who are on lower incomes and they've come to us through the Emergency Relief program and they like having a place where they can hang out. Everyone likes to go have a coffee and a bit of cake and you can't necessarily afford that. Here, they can come and spend all day and get some help from Emergency Relief and talk to the low income support officer if they need it.”

What Hope’s Café delivers other than a cup of coffee and a bit of cake, is a sense of worth for all who come through its doors. “A lot of the people who have come through Emergency Relief have come with that horrible sense of having to reach out and ask for help. Then suddenly they’re introduced into our community and are appreciated for perhaps their barista skills or their kitchen skills and they find themselves really important and part of an exchange of giving and taking.”

“I feel like I'm part of something. I feel like something very special and loving and caring and giving is happening here and I get to sit in the middle of that every day. It's a community. We've some how magically made a little community.”

The welcoming nature of Hope’s Café is a very important part of why she feels so strongly about the work she is doing. “For me, I was very isolated before my role here. I worked from home, studied from home, and then suddenly found this magnificent vibrant community with a lot of people who I shared political beliefs with and it gave me a sense of belonging.”

“I feel like I'm part of something. I feel like something very special and loving and caring and giving is happening here and I get to sit in the middle of that every day." 

“It's a community. We've some how magically made a little community.”

For David Winderlich and the people at Uniting Communities and Clayton Wesley Uniting Church, the results he sees in all the people who pass through Hope’s Café make it all worth while. “I have seen asylum seekers arrive with fear in their eyes and within a few weeks become vibrant members of the community. I have seen people with mental illnesses grow and take on key leadership roles. And I have seen volunteers grow in tolerance and understanding of the diverse range of human needs.”

Upon leaving Hope's Cafe, there still wasn't much room to move in the carpark and, to be honest, there wasn't much room in my stomach either. 


You can find more information on Hope’s Café here.


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