Omagh Community Cafe 'not'
The Omagh Community Cafe 'not' has a somewhat tenuous connection to this weeks theme around food. It goes without saying that if we did have somewhere in Omagh that served locally grown and prepared food, in a convivial atmosphere it would become a magnet for both consumers and producers. Gradually connections would be made between like minded souls, creating a bigger demand for local produce, with the added bonus of building community resilience, health and happiness.
In August 2011 we thought we had a community cafe. In September 2011 we knew we didn’t. So what changed? Visualise this phone call “ Hello, it’s all over, it’s not going to happen!” Putting down the phone after that conversation, I groaned inwardly, knowing that the community cafe that we had envisioned for Transition Omagh (TO) was most certainly not going to happen at the premises we had in mind. This was the end of that particular transition idea for the time being and a surprising outcome, not what we expected at all! Allow me to take you on a guided trip back through the months of planning and hard work that preceded that particular sad phone call.
Imagine painting a backwards picture of the Omagh Community Cafe timeline, not quite the Bayeux tapestry but just enough to give you a sense of our story. Start now and walk with us today along the streets of Omagh to this nice old house, stop for a minute and have a look in, notice the friendly space in that empty, quiet room, see the sad clown dangling in the windows, left over from the pilot community cafe night. Spot the timetable of classes full of empty promise still hanging forlornly on the wall. Come in for a moment and I will show you ‘round, listen to the echo of our footsteps as we explore the extensive ground floor. This room over here, we thought would be ideal to start a food co-op. ”Yes, that’s the back door there, it leads to a large yard and on to an area for allotments by the river. Back there is the marvelously equipped kitchen and cold food storage….. Oh, and you must see this wonderful room through here, perfect for an art exhibition, or an impromptu concert and that other room would be a fantastic area for younger people to hang out.”
Still following our timeline, let us now go back about a month, to a post meeting after the community cafe pilot launch. Come and sit with TO and the potential new landlord around this table and watch our dream dissolve and disappear into the early morning air. Notice as the aftermath glow of success, happiness and hope from our test community cafe night gradually dies and flickers out. Endure with us the realisation of the gap between the dream and reality. Hover above that table and watch in horror as the conversation builds layer upon layer of misunderstanding, anger and assumptions. Notice the collective body language of the group as the discomfort grows and balloons out of proportion. Feel the heaviness in the air in that safe space. See the disappointment grow and fill the room like a gathering ground mist, unspoken barely understood reasons and thoughts appearing like uncatchable clouds in an angry uncharted sky.
Walk back a little further with us on our journey to that fantastic Friday night when over sixty people arrive for magical music, gorgeous food and fun, its a culmination of the dreaming, planning, and unremitting work put in by a small, wonderful band of people. The idea is loved, its intoxicating, we are loved, all is well with the world. Come and join us for the evening, savor the welcome, the friendliness, the warmth, the hospitality. Taste some of the lovely food gifted to that hopeful, joy filled night, listen to the jazz, soak up the atmosphere, notice all the people you know, wander over to say hello, bask in the warm and gentle atmosphere of the evening, observe the different generations. You think to yourself wow! this is really happening, you feel happy to be there and even more than that, you feel the evening is bursting with abundant possibility for the future.
Now delve three months back into the past, to that initial opening conversation around the community cafe. If I could make a request of you to listen quietly, to just observe and see if you notice what it is Transition Omagh didn’t say, or what TO did say but didn’t listen to. Watch carefully as the chasm grows between the assumptions we made but didn’t voice or the assumptions made about TO that were safely imprisoned in a seductive haven of silence. Can you see or hear the slightest hint of anything TO should have approached differently? Finally can you tell us if these conversations were to occur all over again how should they be conducted?
Are you still up for this journey back through the meagre collection of the Transition Omagh community cafe memories? It’s not far - about 11 months or so, just to that OOOOBY fair that we had at Christmas. This was where the community cafe idea was birthed into life. It was a busy, vibrant, friendly fun day, inclusive and bubbling with future potential. At the end of the day there seemed to be a common consensus to keep going and try to launch a community cafe within the year.
Daring to dream - let us conjure up another possible ending to the Omagh community cafe story...
Imagine if we could restart our journey again from December 2010 and on into the spring of 2011.The OOOOBY fair has been such a success that lots of extra people have been energised and excited by the idea of a community cafe. Shortly afterwards many people get in touch and are truly determined to make this happen. The influx of all these extra hearts, hands and heads makes such a difference. Things are really starting to take off, mass enthusiasm and energy is converted into volunteer hours and Transition Omagh is unstoppable. It is agreed to have a fun social night once or twice a month. Have a “skills and anything else swop” on a Saturday morning.These very regular fun events keep folk connected and interested and coming back.
On the more serious side of community cafe life, the core group is set up and they identify a great premises down the town. Because there are quite a few of them, the work load is shared, creating that critical time needed to sit down again and again with the owner of the building, to clarify the advantages and the snags around forming a partnership with a charitable group such as TO. Every detail is clearly outlined, there is utter clarity and transparency and from the start nothing is assumed or left to chance. In the end a deal is hammered out. In return for Transition Omagh Charity moving into the building, the owner is entitled to a sizable rates reduction. Payment of rent has been suspended for three years enabling the community cafe to get on its feet. This allows the necessary time for TO to approach potential sponsors to support the project. Allows time to initiate the establishment of a food co-op and CSA, simultaneously growing a large group of followers who are augmented by the many art and music evenings held over the following six months.
The Community CAFE was formally launched on Friday 12th of August, over sixty people arrive for magical music, gorgeous food and fun, it’s a culmination of the dreaming, planning, and unremitting work put in by a small, wonderful band of people etc.......
Photos: 1 the invitation; image 2 the reverse side of the invitation; image 3 the ooooby crew
marella's blog www.myresilientworld.com