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Sycamore Tree Café – evaluating their place in the community

Violetta and Anne from Sycamore Tree Café took part in a small group of community cafés looking at self-evaluation with CFHS. They wanted to gauge how effective the café was as bridge between the church and the community, and whether volunteers and customers felt that they belonged to the café.


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

The Sycamore Tree Café (STC) is based within Davison’s Mains Church in West Edinburgh. The café was set up to be a community hub, providing a safe and welcoming space for everyone in the community.

It is open three days a week, plus one Friday a month, and sells a limited menu, including soups, sandwiches and a range of snacks and drinks. The café has one member of staff and around 30 volunteers, many of whom have been involved with the café for a long time. Most are volunteering because they want to give something back to their community, and feel connected with it. Teams of volunteers work on different days.

The cafe attracts a wide range of customers, including older people, families with young children, and groups that meet in the church (including a group for people with Alzheimers).  Interacting with its customers to build connectedness is vital for the café. Volunteers are encouraged to talk to, and listen to, their customers. To support the café’s volunteers with this, STC provided listening skills training for them. Some of the volunteers are particularly interested in this aspect of the café’s work.

What outcomes did they focus on?

STC sees itself as a bridge between the church and the community. Violetta, the café manager and Anne, a volunteer, decided that this was one outcome that it wanted to focus on. They also decided to see if the café’s volunteers and customers felt that they belonged to the café.

What evaluation activities did they use?

The café used a range of activities: Violetta and Anne compiled a questionnaire for the café’s customers. It included seven questions that asked about what the café offered, and also what they felt about these, rating these on a scale of importance eg. less to very . Forty customers completed a questionnaire form.

A comments book was left in the café, for both customer and volunteers to use.

A ‘What does the café mean to you?’ poster was displayed on a wall, and customers were encourage to add their comments on post-it notes.

The café held a storytelling evening for its volunteers. Ten took part, despite the event being held in winter and during a ‘flu epidemic.  The volunteers were encouraged to tell their stories about what they felt about their customers, and about the café’s impact. A member of the church, who is a writer, is helping to produce a book which includes the stories shared at the event. The book will be shared with the volunteers, and church members, to demonstrate the importance of the café to the local community and the church.

What did they find out?

The questionnaire provided lots of positive feedback from customers about the café.

The results showed that the customers felt connected to the café: but more important to them was being able to have a conversation with someone, and being able to have a deeper conversation with the volunteers was seen as very important.

While they said they were happy with the menu, this was of much less importance to the customers.

The comments book wasn’t used as much as it was expected to be. However, the comments included reinforced the importance of the café’s role in welcoming people and making them feel a part of it. The poster also produced lots of positive comments about the cafe.

As well as bringing the volunteers together to celebrate their contribution to the cafe, the storytelling evening was great way to share what the café was achieving.

What else have they found?

The volunteer teams were beginning to socialise outside of the café.

What was key for the Sycamore Tree Cafe?

That customers felt able to share their feeling with the café’s volunteers, and that this was more important to them than the food served.


Published: April 24, 2018