Café Fifty Five Thurnby: Great Coffee Served With Spiritual Sustenance…

It’s taken patience, perseverance, hard work and a plethora of prayer, but the church and community of St Luke’s in Thurnby are finally realising the rewards of their decade-long project to create Café Fifty Five.
The community hub, which was recently opened in Manor Park, has been an instant hit with the locals in its offering of everything from Bible study to bereavement services, and as a stylish new space to drink coffee and eat good food.

“We want the cafe to be a place of welcome and community, offering help and hope for all,” says Revd Rob Miles, Rector of St Luke’s. “Our name, ‘Café Fifty Five’ is inspired by Isaiah chapter 55, which starts with God’s invitation to all the people: ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters…’
“It’s a multi-layered invitation, in the sense of this being a place where you can be warmly welcomed in for a coffee and food; but as a church, it speaks something of the gospel, where people’s spiritual needs can be met, where the Good News can be shared, and the hospitality of Christ extended.”

Alongside the café and kitchen, St Luke’s is working with a range of community partners to provide support and services to meet the needs of local people, in all kinds of ways.
There’s already a Toddler Storytime and Digital Drop In, an Activities Café where you can play games and chat to new people, while St Luke’s are partnering with Age UK to launch a Memory Café, and LOROS is holding sessions to support people going through bereavement.

Over the last decade, St Luke's Church members have raised a substantial amount of money to see this project through to fruition. The church also received a large single donation and has been awarded substantial grants from central and local government, alongside various other small grants.
“We’re thrilled to be here, after such a long process,” says Rob. “It’s really nice to be working with, rather than working towards something.”

The process goes back a number of years before Rob’s time as Rector, with early discussions around whether to reorder the church, build an extension, rent a space somewhere in the village as offices for the church, and finally landing at ‘what about a café in the park?’
And then, on a gift day in church eight years ago, people pledged £150,000 and that kick started it all.
Of course, there’s been a pandemic and cost of living crisis since then. The journey to this point has not been plain sailing.

“When we celebrate things or when something fantastic happens somewhere else, we all struggle not to compare ourselves,” says Rob. “One thing we’ve said all along is that this project was way too big for us. A number of times, over the years, there have been substantial wobbles. At the beginning of 2022, when costs were escalating and the target started disappearing into the distance, it seemed almost impossible. Humanly speaking, it has only happened because people have given hours, days, and weeks of their time.”

The community hub is also built on foundations far stronger than bricks and mortar, Rob explains. “One of the biggest lessons Café Fifty Five has taught us as a church is the priority and power of prayer,” he says. “We have needed to learn this lesson again and again throughout this journey. From our initial discernment, to when significant obstacles have got in our way, we have stopped and prayed together as a church community and a way through has happened.
“It is a wonderful story, and we want to celebrate – we are thrilled and grateful to get to this point – but we are also conscious that this has only happened after a lot of help from many people; and, most of all, learning to rely on the Lord.”

Café Fifty Five has been well received in both the church and wider community, and is helping to build new relationships, offering hospitality to people who might not necessarily feel comfortable coming into a church space.
The first event was a packed ‘stay and play’, run by the County Council during the Easter school holidays, and in recent weeks, Revd Tom Devas led Christianity Explored in the cafe, with around 25 people taking part in the course, including some new faces who found out about it through the café website.

“The vast majority of feedback is that this is just want the community needs,” says Rob. “It’s also given the church family a new lease of life, in not just the practical opportunities it affords, but also in the excitement of seeing how well it has turned out and how amazing it is that it actually happened!”

Bishop Saju recently visited Café Fifty Five, meeting Revd Rob and the team, including café manager Josh Shirtcliffe and Lizzie Berry, Schools and Community Outreach Minister.
“It was great to see Saju and show him around, and that he was able to meet Lizzie –  she’s the one in all the detail of community events that will happen here,” says Rob. “Josh is also a real answer to prayer. He’s passionate about hospitality, and a committed Christian who understands the ethos of wanting to run something for the community that’s motivated by a passion for the gospel.”

So it’s all systems go in Thurnby – the end of one long journey, but the beginning of the ‘long haul’.
“Our four key values are: hospitality, excellence, community, and sustainability: that we’re here for the long haul,” says Rob. “We check everything we do against these things. We’re determined not to be a flash in the pan and are working hard to be something the community needs. Unashamedly, excellence is one of those four – we want people who come to the café for a bacon sandwich and a latte to go away and think that’s it’s great, and be surprised that we’re not serving dodgy tea out of old green tea cups,” he smiles.
“We certainly don’t have all the answers, but we are now learning how to make the best use of what is a wonderful resource.”

Bishop Saju says: “I am inspired by the prayerful patience and perseverance of everyone involved in making Café Fifty Five a reality, and the vision behind it to bless and serve the people of Thurnby and the surrounding area. I pray that, through the outreach projects and activities they have planned, many people will experience Christ's generous hospitality and compassion.”

First published on: 29th April 2024
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