Just over two years since Renew 37, a wellbeing café in Nottingham, won funding to replicate its work, eighteen more cafés have opened or are due to.
Since winning the Cinnamon Project Lab award in 2016, Renew has expanded with churches from Doncaster to Northampton opening (or about to open) their own wellbeing café style spaces where “it is okay not to be okay”.
The project won the award for having a “strong model and methodology that it can train other churches to use”, according to the Cinnamon Network. The award funding came alongside access to expert advice and government and market contacts to help other churches set up similar projects. In addition to the eighteen which have subsequently opened, there are “more in the pipeline”, according to charity director and former Baptist preacher Ruth Rice.
Such has been the growth, Ruth stepped away from being the pastor of New Life Baptist Church in Nottingham to become the full-time director of the charity Renew Wellbeing.
Explaining why the movement has grown, she said, ‘I think it’s because God was already in it. We just joined in. He gave me the idea in a dream. It’s so simple too and based on prayer.
‘So much mental health social action is exhausting and damaging and non-sustainable. This is simple and calm and life-giving. The partnership with the mental health team means the church does not over-give or try to do health care that it can’t do.’
Renew 37 has been running for three years now and seeks to provide a sense of belonging without labels and with access to mental health advice. It was set up in response to Psalm 68: “you put the lonely in families or set the captives free”. It is open Monday to Thursday and offers a wide range of activities from mental health workshops to a guitar group.
At a time when mental health services are stretched, Ruth says the cafés are needed: ‘Regulars self-report feelings of belonging and feeling less depressed and anxious, less lonely. Based on one person’s story over one year at Renew 37, the saving in healthcare costs was around £40,000 if you compared his service usage and hospital admission from the previous year.’
‘Success is difficult to measure, but there is good anecdotal evidence from several centres. Especially those that have been open longest. Several folk have come to faith.’
Looking to the future, she added, ‘I long to see places of welcome like this in every town and village. I think every church would benefit from a renew space and every community would find their wellbeing improved.’
Ruth recently came to St John’s Church in Bury St Edmunds and gave an inspiring talk to Churches Together in Suffolk about her project and with the hope that there may be churches in Suffolk interested in getting involved. For further details or just an informal chat, contact details for Ruth and Renew Wellbeing can be found here.