Interview with Peter Mannion, a volunteer with The Red Cafe, Swansea.
So how did the Red Cafe Start?
The Red Cafe has been a dream for the past ten years. We’ve 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 “it’s just not working”.
We were in contact with young people but we weren’t 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 don’t 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. There’s 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 “Wouldn’t 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, it’s been important to us to do things well, with quality. We wanted it to be somewhere we’d 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?
We’re 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. It’s got a pool table, Playstations, TV and computers for people to use. There’s a small kitchen where we serve simple food. We have an emphasis on fair trade and organic food, but these aren’t 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 it’s set aside for workshops, dance, or singing, or djing maybe. Sometimes people just chill out and watch Eastenders.
There’s 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. We’ll 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.
It’s important to realise that as the cafe has developed, often we don’t 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 God’s 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, it’s integral to what we do, and they just accept it. The response we’ve had from the local community has been great too. Even though we are openly a church, we don’t hide that at all, we still receive funds regularly from the police, the local council, and from Europe. We’ve gained a level of respect from the local community which we’re really pleased with,. and at the same time we haven’t 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. It’s 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. We’ve 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. It’s not “Friendship Evangelism” as such – it’s 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. It’s about setting an example, in your own Christian journey, in being accountable, learning from older Christians, and reflecting that to the young people.
It’s not just about bringing young people to a point of decision. That’s almost neither here nor there. It’s about a journey, and it’s 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 don’t then drop them down and say, “Let’s find someone else to work on now.” It’s 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. People’s houses are open. Many of us live within walking distance of the cafe. Those that don’t 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. It’s 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.
Peter was interviewed by Claire Cullingworth