“Everything seems better when you share it over a good old cup of tea, doesn’t it?”
Putting the kettle on and having a cuppa is a key principle in the latest community venture launched by Christian youth worker Kerry-Anne Cooper.
It’s a one-stop social hub, debt advice centre and quaint wartime-themed tea room that runs in Two Waters each Wednesday morning.
Kerry-Anne and her husband Owen, as well as being among the first recruits to Hemel Hempstead’s inaugural Street Pastors team and one half of the town’s debt advice charity Christians Against Poverty, are also instrumental in the running of The Base, a vibrant centre offering advice and activities which aim to help people get their lives back on track.
As well as a parent and carer support group, Friday night youth club and money management courses, the centre within Haven House on London Road now also offers the Liberty Tea Rooms – Kerry-Anne’s brainchild, which came to her while on holiday.
She explains: “I have been a youth worker for 13 years, but I am very much a visionary.
“Owen and I went into this really old, eclectic coffee shop, and I spent hours talking about all the things I could do if I ran a place like that.”
Owen, manager for CAP in Hemel Hempstead, is seeing so many people affected by changes to the benefit system and other problems that all of his debt counselling sessions are booked up until October.
The pair decided people needed a stop-gap, and put their two ideas together in the form of Liberty Tea Rooms.
With its dainty tablecloths, kitsch china cups and saucers, throwback cakes like multi-coloured Battenburg and a wartime music soundtrack, the place has a very ‘keep calm and carry on’ feel to it.
And that’s exactly the ethos Liberty promotes – it offers those crippled by debt worries a tranquil environment to discuss their problems, get advice and, dare I say it, enjoy themselves.
Owen and his fellow CAP representative Alison Patel are on hand for all those unable to get appointments for months to come, while Kerry-Anne continues her mission of helping people while living out her holiday-coffee-shop dream.
The two-hour haven is in its fifth week and is run entirely on donations.
Unlike corporate chain coffee shops that can be found elsewhere in the town, here you only pay what you can afford for your hot drink and snack.
Kerry-Anne said: “When people seek help for debt problems, there is often a fear that they are going to be judged. We want to give people a totally different experience.
“The tea rooms represent Britain as it should be.
“We know there’s still a lot of community spirit left in Hemel, we’re just putting the heart back into Hertfordshire.”
Owen added: “I love my job because it breaks down barriers – not only of people with debt problems but we are a faith organisation so there’s that barrier, too.
“People seem surprised that we just want to help them, that’s all this project is about.”
Liberty Tea Rooms – the name says it all, a place for people to be free from their problems and seek a friendly chat, all over that good old cuppa.
For more about courses and facilities available at The Base, click here.
To speak to CAP about debt services, call 0800 328 0006 or email Owen at email@example.com