Café Laziz: serving St Helens!

Café Laziz is a community café in St Helens. It was set up to give newly settled refugees and asylum seekers volunteering and training opportunities to help them build tangible connections with their local community.

The Café was the brainchild of Debra Hill, a local English Language tutor. She built strong relationships within the local Syrian community through her work. Debra had become aware of the challenges faced by asylum seekers – ranging from social isolation to language barriers and other skills gap – and wanted to help.

Many of the asylum seekers Debra knew had cooking and hospitality skills, as well as a real desire to undertake meaningful activities. Through her relationship with the local council, Debra had identified that several children’s centres in St Helens had unused café spaces. Putting two and two together, the idea of Café Laziz was born!

Bright Ideas

Debra applied to the Bright Ideas Fund in 2018 and was awarded a grant of £14,813k to help set up ‘Our Little Corner of the World in St Helens’ (OLCOTWISH) as a Community Interest Company, develop a business plan, provide training for the initial tranche of volunteers, and create all necessary policies and procedures.

In September 2019, Café Laziz, based in the Central Link Children’s Centre, opened its doors to the public. The Café is open to all and serves a mix of Arabic and vegetarian food, all made by the 15 volunteers. All volunteers are given training in food handling and customer service, giving them the skills for work.

Looking forward, the hope is that branches of Café Laziz’s will be able to operate out of the multiple children’s centres across St Helens. This would enable them to scale-up from being an entirely voluntary led pilot scheme to a fully-fledged community business.

Making a difference to real people

Refugees and asylum seekers often experience social isolation, particularly in their initial settlement period. Café Laziz gives volunteers opportunities to develop new skills and qualifications, expand their support network and develop a sense of community.

The Café also helps to improve community cohesion in St Helens by giving a space for cross-community dialogue and exchange.

Customers can “pay it forward” too, paying an extra £2 to provide a meal for an asylum seeker/refugee free of charge.

“St Helens is a friendly and welcoming place and we want to do all we can to help everyone feel part of the community. Debra has shown true dedication to the refugee and asylum seekers who now call St Helens home and is helping to build strong community links that will benefit us all.”

Councillor Sue Murphy, Deputy Leader of St Helens Council and Cabinet Member for Developing Children

Community Control

Café Laziz was beneficiary-driven from the start. Every aspect of the project was co-designed with its beneficiaries, from naming the café (Laziz means “delicious” in Arabic), to designing the brand identity (signage and menus), and deciding what food to serve.

The project currently has fifteen committed volunteers, with many more community members interested in becoming involved. This is a testament to the inclusive culture that OLCOTWISH has developed. As the organisation grows, OLCOTWISH is looking at supporting and encouraging its volunteers to take up positions on their board.