Old volunteer in the tea room: I am old but I am free to do whatever I like.
Standing in the kitchen of the tea room, Norma systematically and carefully prepares cups of coffee for the frequent customers who prefer sitting beside the colourful window. She can’t remember how many cups of coffee she has been made in this small tea room in last 20 years. What she can remember is that this tea room enables her to get in touch with different people, be closer to strangers and listen to many interesting stories.
Norma, a talkative retired teacher, is a volunteer who has worked in the St John’s tea room in Cardiff St John’s Baptist Church for more than 20 years and she could remember nearly every customer and their stories. The stories and relationships with customers as well as colleague drive loneliness away from Norma and make her feel closer to people in Cardiff.
“I meet different people here. When I am chatting with them, I get lots of experiences what they went through in the past from them. I just like a collector of stories. For people here, we are neighbour, I don’t mean next-door neighbour, but we are neighbour. I feel I am not alone in this tea room and I think this is what I got from this tea room,” says Norma.
Born in a Christian family, Norma is familiar with the church. After retiring as a teacher, Norma chose to be a volunteer in the Church and this church voluntary work becomes one precious part of her life.
For the tea room itself, it is an intriguing part of Cardiff.
This tea room is an essential part of the Cardiff St John’s Baptist Church. The original purpose of setting up this tea room is to create a safe and comfortable place for people to have food, meet each other, enjoy themselves. Taking part in activities in such an important voluntary work in Cardiff, Norma is very satisfied.
At first, this tea room was run by outside companies, but several years ago it stopped because of finance and the lack of enough staff.
This time is one of the most desperate time Norma and her colleague have ever met. But they didn’t give up because this tea room is not only a workplace for them but also a place for them to enjoy themselves, so they restarted the tea room by themselves again.
There is an interesting point of this tea room: both customers and volunteers are mainly old people and middle-aged people.
Age seems to be one of the characters of this tea room. It is normal to see old volunteers cook and serve in the tea room. Though they are old, they still show careful attitudes towards their voluntary works. And it is also normal to see old customers keep coming to the tea room even it is hard for them to hobble upstairs.
Not all the old volunteers in the tea room are dexterous and quick in action. So, sometimes customers have to be patient to wait those old volunteers serve for them slowly.
For those old volunteers, Norma says: “In Britain, people are free to do what they want to do, like volunteer work, no matter how old they are. Today young people, both female and male are busy with their work and life, while retired people are those who will do voluntary work. So only old people can have enough time. For me, voluntary work is better than taking care of grandchildren. So, I am happy to be one member of this tea room to meet different people here because it also keep me active after I retired.”
For Norma, her colleagues are her partners as well as family, they are close to each other, and they are affecting each other. But the most important thing is that this volunteer work brings them much closer to each other.
People needs communication and friends, in this tea room, Norma can talk to others, otherwise she has to stay at home alone. People talk, communicate their life, difficulties, gain spiritual support and sometime some customers can get ideas for their work here.
“People who prefer this tea room are those who are not so happy with their lives and enjoy smaller places where people are more approachable than big, noisy restaurants and pubs. Because in this tea room, people here do care them and like to chat with them. They can find friends here, I also find my friends here and it is their accompany chase away loneliness from me,” says Norma.
During her voluntary time in the tea room, Norma met different kinds of people, and she is not only a member of the tea room but also an observer as well as a listener. The communication not only change her but also other persons and makes Norma thinks that her voluntary work can really change others.
Leo, a young man from the Czech Republic, is one of the volunteers in the tea room. Being the youngest volunteer among all volunteers in the tea room, Leo looks like a strange person. He always prefers wearing a large glasses which seems could hide all his emotions behind it. This looks strange, and during his early time in the room he was also afraid to talk with others.
But it seems that this tea room changes Leo. After working in this tea room, Norma are kind to Leo and always encouraged but not pushed him to be open to others. While she was doing voluntary work in the tea room together with Leo, she encouraged Leo to communicate with others by whatever ways he preferred. So, Leo found his own approach to talk with people in the tea room. That is magic.
Leo is interested in magic, thus every time he finds some new customers, he will try to make a flower by tissue for them and show them his magic. This tea room enables people to communicate with others by their favorite ways.
Dorothy, an old lady in the similar age with Norma, comes to the tea room as long as it opens. She appears in the tea room even more frequently than some voluntary staff. Dorothy prefers talking with others, but her children are busy with their work and when they are off duty they just concentrate on their phone. Dorothy is not lonely in this tea room because she has Norma and other volunteers. They can recall what happened in the past, talk about family affairs together.The accompany of Norma helps Dorothy to chase away loneliness and gain a friendship for such a long time.
Sometimes some Cardiff actors also come to this tea room, the special atmosphere here may inspire their artistic creation. Norma discloses that some local theatre actors sometimes come to this tea room and listen to stories from other customers. This makes Norma think she is one part of their artistic creations.
“When I talk to my customers, I feel I really go through what they have experienced. And the relationship with them and myself makes my retired life colorful and satisfied,” says Norma.
For all customers in the tea room, Norma says: “They are all my customers, and they are equal. When they come to this small tea room, I will serve them with a cup of tea, coffee, milk or soup. I have made this for more than 20 years. Even if Theresa May comes here, she is just one of my common the customers, and I will serve her with what she orders and I welcome her to talk with us about herself but not Brexit.”
Norma is an ordinary retired lady in Cardiff, and while she is doing voluntary work in the tea room, she becomes friends, listeners of other people who want to talk. In this tea room, there are many volunteers like Norma, who are welcome whether frustrated or happy customers to visit the tea room. This experience not only enriches Norma’s life but also help her to satisfy herself in her retired life.