The Red Cafe has been a dream for the past ten years. Weíve tried all sorts of projects with young people: traditional youth clubs, street work, anything and everything that we could think of. We reached the point of opening our eyes and saying "itís just not working".
We were in contact with young people but we werenít meeting their particular needs, or the needs of the community we were based within. Even when we did feel we were making progress, there was nowhere for the young people to go on to. They just donít fit in with traditional churches, so what could we do? The Red Cafe came out of a number of years of those sort of questions.
The area we live is right on the sea front. Thereís the traditional row of 15 pubs and a night club at the end. The young people would just come down, try to get into as many of the pubs as they could and then go on to the night-club. We started thinking "Wouldnít it be great to have somewhere on the sea front itself, that was completely dedicated to young people"
About 3 years ago we managed to purchase a property on the sea front, with backing from our church, and we took it from there. All the way through, itís been important to us to do things well, with quality. We wanted it to be somewhere weíd be happy to go ourselves. None of this would have been possible without the Linden Church in Swansea, who have given us enormous support, and a lot of freedom to try things out.
What happens at the Red Cafe?
Weíre open 3 nights a week, and 2 days. There are a number of different parts of the building that get used in different ways. On a busy night we get 50+ people, though 30-40 is more normal.
The ground floor is a cafe. Itís got a pool table, Playstations, TV and computers for people to use. Thereís a small kitchen where we serve simple food. We have an emphasis on fair trade and organic food, but these arenít always the most popular with the young people, so we up the price of the chocolate and coke to subsidise them!
The first floor is a more open space. How we use it varies. Sometimes itís set aside for workshops, dance, or singing, or djing maybe. Sometimes people just chill out and watch Eastenders.
Thereís a small meditation or prayer room at the back. Sometimes we set up something quite structured in there, maybe suggestions for praying about a particular issue. Other times it can just be an open space where people can go and be quiet by themselves. Weíll put out some things to read, or look at, or some music to listen to, something creative like that.
We do a number of other things too. We do some detached youth work, going down to the local parks to meet the young people who hang out there. We run a healthy living and exercise group called "Red Hot and Sweaty", for those who are interested in that sort of thing. We run a fortnightly club night in Swansea called Rubics Cube, which draws about 250 people.
We also run an educational program, during term time, with the local schools. Kids who have got social or behavioural problems come in and do sessions on music production, in a small studio we have, or do simple sessions on food production, fair trade and sustainability issues, based in the cafe, and an allotment we have nearby.
Itís important to realise that as the cafe has developed, often we donít have a "Grand Plan" or a strategy. For example, the environmental program has arisen because one particular person on the team has a vision for how we treat and steward Godís earth, and so the whole project has taken on something of that flavour.
How do the young people react to the fact that you are a Christian organisation?
Really well. It not hidden at all, itís integral to what we do, and they just accept it. The response weíve had from the local community has been great too. Even though we are openly a church, we donít hide that at all, we still receive funds regularly from the police, the local council, and from Europe. Weíve gained a level of respect from the local community which weíre really pleased with,. and at the same time we havenít had to compromise our values or identity.
We also do something called Red Church. We open the cafe on a Thursday night, which is not a normal cafe night. We do some discussion, some meditation, maybe some music, and a little bit of explanation about what worship is. Itís at an early stage, but it goes ok. We get 10-20 people along to that. We vary what we do, and some things work better than others. Weíve begun to do a version of the Alpha Course, too.
Discipleship - how does that work in practice?
We have teams of young people coming to us as volunteers for a year at a time, from a group called NGM. (http://www.ngm.org.uk/) We encourage them to get alongside the young people and be their friends. Itís not "Friendship Evangelism" as such - itís not about targeting young people, but about genuinely being their friends, going through the struggles, the disappointments, the joys that all young people have, generally walking through their life with them. Itís about setting an example, in your own Christian journey, in being accountable, learning from older Christians, and reflecting that to the young people.
Itís not just about bringing young people to a point of decision. Thatís almost neither here nor there. Itís about a journey, and itís about taking people on, and teaching them. They may come to a point where they do make a decision. They do come to some level of understanding, and some recognition that they do have a faith in Jesus, and they do believe, but we donít then drop them down and say, "Letís find someone else to work on now." Itís about them walking through into more maturity in the faith.
What is at the very heart of what you do?
It all stems from life in the community that's been created around the cafe. Peopleís houses are open. Many of us live within walking distance of the cafe. Those that donít are trying to move into the area, to create a community feel in the town we live in.
Relationships are central to what church is. Itís not about meetings, although it can be great to express in a corporate way, what we believe. Much more important are our relationships and the community we have together.