More than a run of the Mill cafe at St Catherine’s Hospice

The Mill cafe at St Catherine's Hospice has been open for a year
The Mill cafe at St Catherine's Hospice has been open for a year

A welcoming community hub launched by St Catherine’s Hospice 12 months ago has flourished to become a hugely successful business venture, as Kay Taylor discovers.

Acafé and community hub built in the grounds of St Catherine’s Hospice is celebrating its first successful year in business.

“Over the past 12 months, The Mill has gone from strength to strength, setting itself up as an attractive community venue which has hosted everything from IT skills workshops and solicitors’ drop-in sessions, to watercolour classes and meditation.”

ynn Kelly, director of knowledge exchange services at St Catherine’s

The Mill in St Catherine’s Park first opened its doors to the public exactly a year ago on November 24, when the first cup of coffee was brewed by Good Morning Britain star and TV broadcaster Ranvir Singh.

Since then it has welcomed around 60,000 visitors to enjoy a drink or a meal in the café, or activities and therapies in the rooms upstairs.

The pioneering concept of The Mill is to open up hospice care by welcoming the community into the heart of the St Catherine’s setting.

The café, therapy and meeting rooms create familiar surroundings to support people with life-shortening illnesses through information and advice.

And by opening The Mill to the public, along with the development of St Catherine’s Park in partnership with South Ribble Council, the message is one of ‘welcome’, with the aim that the fear or anxiety some people feel about hospices can hopefully be dispelled.

Nicola Hanmer, commercial catering manager at the hospice and The Mill, says: “It has been an incredible first year and we’d like to say a huge thank you to all our wonderful customers who have supported the new venture and helped get it off to a flying start.

“It is wonderful that not only have the wider community embraced what we are offering here, but that St Catherine’s patients and their families are finding it so beneficial too.

“We know many people enjoy being able to come away from the main hospice and enjoy time together as a family in the café.

“It creates that all-important feeling of normality, which families tell us means such a lot.”

Operating as a social enterprise with all profits used to support the specialised care of the Lostock Hall hospice, the venture is also helping to make the charity more sustainable for the future.

The Mill Outside – the catering arm of the business – has also gone from strength to strength, providing the catering for a wide variety of functions and events out in the community, including the prestigious Royal Lancashire Show.

Staff managed to smash their target of catering for 30 events in the hospice’s 30th anniversary Give a Gift appeal too, with 41 achieved so far.

Along with the locally sourced, seasonal dishes served up in the successful café, The Mill is also offering a friendly face to visitors through volunteer advisors, who are on hand with information and advice or just for a chat.

Lesley Kirkham gives her time each Wednesday afternoon as an advisor and really enjoys the role.

She says: “The Mill is a lovely place for people who might be lonely or worried about something.

“They may want to talk to someone who will listen and is impartial; maybe point them in the right direction to get help.

“Visitors can come in to The Mill to grab a drink, a bite to eat and have a chat about anything they want to, and somebody will be there to listen.

“The ambience is great and the food is superb.

“It’s not a rushed environment, so people can take things at their own pace, and the people I have met while working here have been wonderful.”

Jamie Ward is another member of The Mill volunteer team, working each week as a café assistant.

Jamie lives with Asperger syndrome, a form of autism, which can trigger anxiety and nervousness, particularly in social situations.

But now, thanks to a partnership between The Mill and the Brothers of Charity organisation – which supports people with learning difficulties – Jamie is enjoying increased confidence and improved people skills.

He said: “Working here at The Mill helps build up my confidence – I can overcome barriers that have held me back in the past. Sometimes, I might not be as confident, and I might not see things other people do, but working here helps build my CV – it gives me more experience in dealing with people and providing good quality customer service.”

He added that he gets great job satisfaction from volunteering at The Mill.

“I like making visitors to The Mill feel good and helping them change their day,” Jamie explains.

“Somebody came into the café once who wasn’t having a great day, so I made sure I made her feel welcome and spoke to her.

“Apparently that cheered her up, so she left a message on the Facebook page saying I’d made her day, and that was really nice to hear.”

Over the past year, The Mill has also established itself as a vibrant community hub, with all sorts of events and activities organised on a regular basis in the upstairs rooms.

Sessions include everything from exercise classes like pilates and yoga, to advice workshops and drop-ins hosted by organisations such as Lancashire Dementia Voices. Local businesses are also utilising the space available – with rooms upstairs hired on a long-term arrangement by The Therapy Company and Feet Matters to offer a range of treatments including counselling, cognitive behavioural therapy, massage, and podiatry and chiropody.

Lynn Kelly, director of knowledge exchange services, says: “Over the past 12 months, The Mill has gone from strength to strength, setting itself up as an attractive community venue which has hosted everything from IT skills workshops and solicitors’ drop-in sessions, to watercolour classes and meditation.

“The Mill is benefiting people on many levels and we’re delighted to be reaching out to more people in our community when they pass through the doors.”

Stephen Greenhalgh, chief executive of St Catherine’s Hospice, thanked everyone for their support of The Mill during its first year in business, one of the many ways the community has given its backing to the charity during its 30th anniversary year throughout 2015.

“Opening The Mill last year started an exciting new chapter for St Catherine’s, and we have been overwhelmed by the fabulous response from local people who have poured into our café and appreciated our other facilities,” he says.

“We warmly welcome visitors from near and far to become part of the inspiring St Catherine’s story, making a real difference to local lives at the most poignant times.

“Every cup of coffee sold helps friends and neighbours when it matters most.”

To mark the special birthday, each customer to the café this week will receive a raffle ticket giving them the chance of winning a birthday cake handcrafted by The Mill’s patisserie chef, Tony Culliney.

- For more information or to make a booking, visit www.themillatstcatherinespark.co.uk or call 01772 695277.