There is no greater delight than being outside in the cold watching a football match, or watching your children play on the swings, than to discover that you’re standing right next to a cafe selling hot tea and tasty bacon butties. King George V playing fields has its very own cafe known as Georgie Porgies Cafe, staffed entirely by volunteers and open every day to service the needs of the people using the playing fields; dog walkers, kids playing football, Mums and Dads and older people from the community who are looking for company. The cafe is run by Molly and Alan and a band of loyal volunteers who come in each weekend, weekdays in the holidays and weekday afternoons all year round so that the surrounding community can enjoy an ice cream or a cuppa depending on the season. Today is Saturday and the playing fields are all full with youngsters hoping to please the coach and proud mums and dads shouting from the sidelines. I am a little nervous as I am going to be volunteering in the cafe today. Behind the counter is a group of six people already for the morning rush. I want to be helpful today but everyone seems to have their station and I know I’m going to have to learn as quickly as possible. Three of the volunteers are stationed to serve the customers and another three staff are at the back of the cafe ready to cook; one working on bread, another on eggs and sausages and finally a person on the hotplate. The group greets me with lots of cheery hellos and are very warm and welcoming. I meet Tina whose first day is today. She had started early in the morning and seems to be fitting right in serving on the counter. I wash my hands and pop on an apron. I immediately feel the part. It isn’t long before the games finish on the field and the first lot of customers come streaming in.
I find myself with Alan on the hotplate cooking bacon burgers and sausages. Everything feels quite exciting with shouts of orders and times. I feel like Gordon Ramsey, without the swearing. The bread was prepared behind me so all I needed to do is put meat on it to complete the order and tell the person was serving that it was ready so it would get to the right customer. Sounds easy in theory. Somehow we ended up with an egg and bacon sandwich that no one wanted. I worked at a fast-food restaurant when I was a teenager and they had often not let me anywhere near the grill. I was mostly on the till or cooking chicken. Volunteering to work on the hotplate seemed a lot more fun than getting paid for it, a strange paradox of volunteering. I felt it was fun to cook and serve people as a volunteer but as a job I had found the whole thing stressful. I loved that I was trusted at Georgie Porgies and proudly brandished my spatula.
The rush died down. I then was able to chat to Tina who told me that although she started at the cafe today she volunteers in a lot of different places including the Rotary club. I realised that Tina was also at the Tameside 4 good tea challenge I completed a few weeks ago but I hadn’t initially recognised her. There was a real spirit of community in the kitchen which I thoroughly enjoyed. Lots of young people came to the counter asking what they can afford with their pocket money. The volunteers were extremely friendly and supportive and I felt that if my children where in the cafe that they would be well looked after. I found that the prices were incredibly reasonable as I often go to places where parents and families can feel ripped off by the price of the refreshments. When I originally spoke to Molly on the phone to offer to volunteer at the cafe and she mentioned we would be serving people playing football and I had an image of big burly blokes for some reason.
I went on the till for a little while and found it relatively easy because prices were clearly displayed; although I did have to do a lot of adding up in my head. Come back Willow Wood Hospice till all is forgiven. The only problem I had was trying to price the Jaffa cakes which took me a while to work out that they were 25p for 2 packets. I thought that they were 25p each so Molly and I spent a long time getting to two different amounts; much to the hilarity of everyone there.
Another match on the playing field finished, I went back on the hotplate and was trusted to make some hamburgers. In the quieter moments I even managed to make a hamburger for one of the volunteers and he was delighted. There might be something in this cooking lark after all. I declined a kind offer to have something to eat in my break because I don’t eat meat. No bacon butties for me then but a nice hot cup of tea in a mug with a dog on the front instead.
I reflected on a wonderful morning as I left the playing fields and how friendly everyone had been. I think sometimes our community can feel a little bit separated, but when people are able to do something that means that communities have somewhere to go in order to drink and have food felt deeply rewarding. I only wish that all the parks and green spaces in the Tameside area can have something as lovely as this but it would take the dedication of hard working volunteers who were willing to come in throughout the year and run the cafe. Georgie Porgies Cafe is living proof of community spirit and I promised I would be back to help soon. I hear they have gardeners, litter pickers and bee keepers. I wonder if they will let me get a bee suit on or more importantly whether I would have the courage. I guess I will find out.