THE OXENHOPE Community Café celebrated its first birthday after a year establishing itself as an essential part of village life.

The café, which attracts up to 25 people each week, is held in the Methodist Church and is also supported by the village's Anglican church.

The café is part of a pilot scheme being undertaken at four churches across Yorkshire to tackle rural loneliness and isolation.

Funded through the Arthur Rank Centre, the project could see rural churches across Yorkshire play a wider role supporting friendships in their community.

Sam Mawer, one of the volunteers, said: “The café attracts all ages, with toddlers and people in their 90s coming together. This project is about building sustainable friendships for all.

"Rural isolation is not something often talked about but the café is making a big difference to the lives of people who may otherwise lack opportunities to talk and meet with others regularly.

“We have the support of the village Co-op store who allow us £10 of goods fortnightly. That may not sound much but it keeps us stocked in tea, coffee, biscuits, cakes and ice creams in the summer and means that we can operate on a ‘donations only if able and wish to’ basis.”

One of the young mothers who frequent the café said said she had felt reserved and isolated at home while her son was going through the process of being diagnosed with autism.

She said: "I came to the café in the hope to meet other mums and I met lots of other lovely people which helped develop my own sense of self, and I got loads of encouragement."

The Oxenhope project is part of a scheme being piloted in Yorkshire to tackle rural isolation with two Anglican and two Methodist churches participating: Oxenhope Methodist, Kirbymoorside Parish, Littlebeck Methodist and Swaledale with Arkengarthdale Parish.

Fiona Fidgin, the Regional Learning and Development Officer for the Methodist Church, is coordinating the pilot scheme.

She said: “Loneliness isn’t something that people talk about, there seems to be a stigma. Prior to this project, none of the churches had thought about loneliness or isolation from a collective point of view.

“This has been a life-changing experience for the people involved. The clergy team at the Oxenhope Café don’t run the scheme themselves, that is undertaken by volunteers and is part of the process of creating opportunities for friendships.”