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Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Soul food

It’s at this time of year, when you and your little ones are running from a sharp shower or seeking refuge from an icy wind, that you so appreciate what people do voluntarily in our city to offer shelter and refreshment for prices that still leave you some money to pay your own heating bills.

There are actually lots of wonderful venues in Edinburgh that are largely or completely staffed by volunteers and are, amazingly, free to enter – Gorgie City Farm and the Water of Leith Visitor Centre are just two. But if you’re after a less structured experience for an hour (just a sit down in the warm with a coffee and a bun perhaps), you might want to locate your nearest community café.

Our closest is Newhaven Connections – great for a sandwich and a coffee before or after a play at Trinity’s Victoria Park. But recently we went to Café Life at the Lifecare Centre, Stockbridge, down Cheyne Street and only a stone’s throw from Raeburn Place. It’s a lovely, light room with windows on all sides, space to potter about for the children and the BBC News Channel on the TV (turned down low) for the adults. Leith Community Centre Café has nice views up Leith Walk and over South Leith Parish Church, as well as Wi-Fi and a wee children’s play area with books to read. Then the Friday before last we took the bus through to Café Connect at the Eric Liddell Centre, Morningside. Situated just on “Holy Corner”, you can pop up a couple of steps to an area overlooking the busy traffic junction. We spent ages mesmerised by the cars, bikes and people coming and going. Also within the centre is a second-hand children’s clothes shop, Tots Togs (donations welcome), and a bookstall.

One great thing about these cafés is that you feel you can linger and no-one will mind. They’re a place from which to watch the world go by (quite literally, at the Eric Liddell Centre), often situated in centres that have lots happening that you can nosey in on. The Eric Liddell Centre had a judo and a dancing class in the short time we were there and my children enjoyed seeing the participants dressed in their various activity-appropriate costumes. They’re usually roomy, too, which means that you can easily park a buggy or let a toddler run free. The feel is quite different to an average café – I suppose it’s to do with being right at the centre of the local community. Which, if you’re a sentimental fool like me, warms your heart, as well as the rest of you, for the time that you’re there.


Edinburgh Community Cafés have their own dedicated website and – oh, joy − a map with the cafés marked. But don’t forget your local community centre or church, either. There’s a lovely café, The Sycamore Tree, at Davidson’s Mains Parish Church that you won’t find on the Community Cafés website – open most Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10.00-13.30, with fresh soup served from 12.00. In a wee hall at the back, as long as you tidy them away again afterwards, your little one can play with the toys belonging to the toddler group while you have a cuppa and some home baking. Even better, on the last Friday of every month at 12.30 they hold an event for all ages and serve bacon rolls and hotdogs while the littl’uns get on with a craft activity. Hurrah for the community. 

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