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How Coffee Tots began

Coffee Tots is a café-based Christian parenting support project situated in Coventry City Centre, which welcomes around 50 families Monday to Friday each week. The majority of families who go to Coffee Tots live in areas of severe deprivation and family breakdown is very common; financial burden, social isolation and the stresses and strains of raising children leave many parents struggling to cope. At Coffee Tots, staff and volunteers practically support families, help them to build relationships and networks and aim to demonstrate God’s love to people who may never have encountered God or the Church.

Ann McCabe has been the family support coordinator at Coffee Tots since 2014 when she left NHS nursing. Ann was a supporter and customer of Coffee Tots along with her young daughters from the outset.

Like many things in life if you had the full plan of what was to come revealed to you from the start you would likely run away; Coffee Tots is very much like that. Here is our story.

Coffee Tots started small in a way that many may recognise; two city centre toddler groups that were struggling for leaders and to reach un-churched families. The leaders, Catherine Bartlem and Catherine Jupp, both had a heart for reaching out into the community but struggled to get people to go to a traditional toddler group. Introduced by a mutual friend, they found God had put a very similar vision on their hearts: a toddler group with a difference; one that would reach people who previously had no contact with churches or toddler groups.

Initially, Catherine Bartlem took to walking the city centre with her young son in tow. She began to notice that a lot of parents would gather by the fountain, with kids in pushchairs, seeking brief respite. Chatting with these mums she discovered they often shared their life-story very openly, keen to speak to another adult. Time and time again the story was the same: with no family or friends locally they walked to town just to get out of the house. They rarely entered shops as they were too anxious, and didn’t have any money to spend anyway. After a short time they would walk home again – rain or shine this was their daily pattern.

Despite building up friendships with these mums they still wouldn’t attend the toddler group, as it was just too daunting for them. To address this, the now combined groups started meeting together in Starbucks. The coffee shop kindly provided free tea and coffee, and in this neutral venue parents felt comfortable enough to come along. After a time of chatting informally, everyone was invited back to the church centre where there were toys and crafts.

This format was extremely successful at reaching the families who wouldn’t previously attend toddler groups and from this the idea of Coffee Tots was born. This new vision was shared, prayed over, shaped and honed. By early 2010 the plans were set out, work for us to become a charity, the Three Spires Family Support Trust, was started and, in April 2010, both Catherines gave up paid employment to focus on getting Coffee Tots off the ground. This was a real step of faith, as we held on to the belief that the vision for Coffee Tots and the city of Coventry was coming from God so he would provide. This is something we have come back to time and time again as we continue to rely on God’s provision.

Challenges and blessings

In addition to the money we needed for start-up costs, in order to register as a charity we needed £5000 in the bank. This seemed impossible but, after many months of sharing our vision at local churches, with friends and family, and securing a grant from the Church Urban Fund, we had the money we needed.

It was important that Coffee Tots was located in the city centre so that it felt that like the group belonged to everyone, not just those who live in one particular area. We entered talks with the local council and were successful in negotiating a rent-free period for a shop unit, which gave us time to keep fundraising. Coffee Tots is still well supported by churches through financial giving and donations: an amazing 35% of our income comes from individuals who give monthly through our Building Blocks for Coffee Tots scheme (started in 2011). This means we are sustainable in our basic outreach in the café and we are able to apply to charitable trusts to fund our development projects.

Our vision was to provide a safe space for families where they could come and be themselves, and where we could all offer support and share life’s difficulties with one another. But God has done so much more. He had even bigger plans for us, using Coffee Tots in ways we couldn’t have dreamed of. We are now a part of people’s stories, seeing their lives transformed and walking with them as they find faith. Has it always been easy? Definitely not – at times it has been scary, stressful and deeply saddening but it has also been a privilege and a blessing.

We’ll be sharing more of how God is providing for families in Coventry through the work of Coffee Tots in the next edition.