Having thought about some of the issues that come up when you are sharing a table in a cafe, I visited Seaford in East Sussex yesterday for a project I’m working on and discovered a remarkable little community a place called the Real Deli.
As Penny, who first recommended going there when I visited, said to me, it doesn’t look anything special from the outside and, as I discovered, it’s not that special to look at inside either. But when I spoke to one of the women who told me she drops in regularly, she said to me “Don’t make it too popular, we want to be able to get in!”
It’s the kind of place where the staff look out for the people who come in – one man called Cyril told me they call him to check up on him if he’s not there by 9am and, as another man called Phil said, it’s the sort of place where once you’ve been in a couple of times, you’d be considered a regular, so it’s not closed, or hostile to newcomers. Another woman told me the first time she came in she just sat and listened and couldn’t believe what she was hearing – it’s a place for the broad minded, someone else chipped in.
The atmosphere was in contrast to the scene I saw outside an East Dulwich cafe – a man staring vacantly into space, looking sad and lonely. I also visited Seaford’s community garden where one man who had been widowed for a number of years was obviously delighted to have found a community of people who he could be useful to – he was a keen gardener and helped with the vegetable garden, as most other’s expertise was in flowers… Each week the team of volunteers would work in the gardens, have a cup of tea and a chat and make plans for the coming week. They sell the food they grow – there are queues at times when they have tomatoes.
I was also told about community buses, where both driver and fellow passengers say hello when you get on – that’s really important if you haven’t spoken to anyone that day, one of the gardening team said.
On the surface, Seaford lacks the charm of a place like Rye, but when loneliness is becoming such an issue, particularly among elderly men, it encouraged me to think about what we should value in life.