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Open Door Café – evaluating their service to older people

Joanne and Hazel from Open Door Café took part in a small group of community cafés looking at self-evaluation with CFHS. They wanted to find out how well their Sunday Lunch and other activities helped reduce social isolation and whether diners felt a sense of belonging.


Between August 2017 and March 2018 we worked with a small group of community cafes to look at self-evaluation, including Open Door.

The Open Door (OD) is Edinburgh’s oldest community café. Running since February 1982, it was set up by a number of local churches to provide services for older people who they thought may be suffering from the ‘poverty of loneliness’, because their families had moved away from the area. As well as the café, it runs daycare and other services for older people from across the city, as well as those living in the local Morningside area.

The café is open 5 days a week. It serves a small range of hot food as well as cold food, cakes, snacks and drinks. Volunteers are key to the café’s operation.

Providing good, affordable food is only one reason why the café was set up. Equally important, if not more so, is providing a safe, welcoming space for customers, especially for people that are more vulnerable because of their age, health issues or personal circumstances.

Recognising that some of their customers had little or no social contact with others when the café wasn’t open, a monthly Sunday Lunch was started in July 2017. Between 11 and 17 people now take part, paying (if they can) £3.50 for a two course lunch, which is prepared and served by volunteers. Some diners are encouraged to take part by other organisations (e.g. Salvation Army, housing associations).  Activities are used during the lunch to encourage diners to interact with each other.

What outcome did they focus on?

Joanne (the manager) and Hazel (a board member) wanted to find out if the Sunday lunch increased diners’ feeling of belonging, and reduced social isolation.

What evaluation activities did they use?

The staff gathered information about the diners. This includes who took part, who came back, and where diners were from (if they were referred by another organisation, or where they lived if they weren’t).

Informal information gathering was also used. Volunteers and staff listened to diners’ comments and feedback, and chatted to diners to find out why they had come along. Some said they would have been on their own if not at the Sunday Lunch and really welcomed the chance to meet other diners. Others came long because of the friendliness of the lunches, although they did have other opportunities to be with friends or family at Sunday lunchtimes too. Gathering information this way was used to reduce the diners feeling they were being ‘labelled’.

Volunteers and staff also used observation, noting interactions between the diners during the lunches.

A number of agencies refer their clients to the Sunday Lunch. This indicates that the referral agencies have concerns that their clients are lonely or socially isolated.

What else are they planning?

They are also planning to use a questionnaire with their customers to help with an annual review of the Sunday lunch.

What did they find?

The Sunday lunch is attracting a diverse group of people. While most are older people, the diners include people affected by mental health issues and people with learning disabilities.

Diners are coming back. The number of diners is increasing. However, the capacity of the café limits the lunch numbers expanding much more.

Diners are participating fully in activities run during the Sunday lunch (for example, quizzes, bingo and carol singing).

The approach taken by the staff and volunteers mean that diners feel comfortable sharing their concerns and needs with them.

The staff and volunteers have observed that some diners are building new friendships.

What else did they find?

Some volunteers feel more comfortable and confident and want to contribute more to the activities run during the lunches. Some have been involved in new activities when they hadn’t expected to be, including leading the carol singing.

What else has happened?

The Open Door has secured funding to run the Sunday lunch for two years. The funders include the Big Lottery Fund and Greggs Foundation.

Age Scotland has awarded the Open Door a certificate of excellence

What was key for Open Door?

Including staff observations, so that changes in how diners are interacting with each other and with other staff and volunteers aren’t missed.

Using evaluation methods and activities that are proportionate and appropriate to what they are doing

Published: April 24, 2018