Interview with Alex Hoskyn, Chatty Café scheme
This week, we interviewed Alex Hoskyn the creator of the Chatty Café scheme. The scheme encourages and supports cafes to designate a table as a Chatter & Natter table, where customers can sit together to chat to each other.
Alex is 33 years ‘young’ and she is from Oldham. We wanted to know all about how and why she started the scheme, what she’s learnt and where we can find out more. Alex is a great example of someone who took a little idea, sparked from her own experience and created a scheme which encourages people to connect. We loved finding out about her experience.
Hello Alex! Tell us about how you started the Chatty Café scheme
In March this year, I set up The Chatty Café Scheme because I found myself feeling incredibly lonely and desperately craving human interaction. Now I am not socially isolated, I have a partner, friends and family. Yet when my son Henry was around four months old I was spending what felt like very long days not talking to another adult.
Yes, I could have been sat with other mums discussing sleep deprivation. But for me, one of those groups a week was enough, and I didn’t always want to go to my mum’s or friends’ houses all day. So, I found myself visiting cafes… lots of cafes. Big ones, small ones, community ones, ones where a cup of tea is £3 and others where its 50p. And Henry and I would sit there, me feeling incredibly blessed whilst also secretly wishing I was at work until one day I was feeling particularly fed up. I’d walked around the town centre, been to a couple of cafes, smiled at people, taken Henry to a play group in the library and yet I had not had a single bit of conversation with another adult.
My final tea break/café stop for the day was the café in Sainsburys, Oldham. I looked around and saw an elderly lady sat alone whose body language and facial expressions screamed loneliness. At another table was a young man with additional needs and his carer who also both presented as fed up and sick of talking to just each other.
I started to think about the positive impact we could have had on each other, if we were sat together. It was then and there that I thought about the concept of a Chatter & Natter table, where customers could sit if they were happy to talk to other customers.
I wasn’t looking for more friends or anything lasting, all I was craving was simple human interaction while I drank my cup of tea, so that is what I have tried to do with the scheme.
How did you go about setting up the scheme?
I told my mum about the idea and she told me to go for it. I wanted to start the scheme with as little financial outlay as possible, so that if it didn’t take off I wouldn’t have lost much but also because I didn’t have any money to put into it. I registered as a sole trader and then had a go at designing my own website. I knew it was possible to do it myself to keep costs down so I did some research and found good reviews for Wix. I bought the domain name, hosting and got something up there on the worldwide Web. The total cost for this was about £100.
I then had a go at designing some publicity. I knew what I wanted it to look like but my attempts were useless. I realised that £70 spent on a proper designer would be money well spent so I gave a local agency my ideas and they designed me a fab poster.
From then on it has just been a case of putting in the work. So on my days off with my little boy I have been visiting cafes. I started a Twitter and Facebook account for the scheme and have just been trying to spread the word.
My plan was to create a buzz on as little money as possible to see if people liked the idea. It’s now six months on and I’m still trying to keep everything on a budget, but I am happy to say that the scheme seems to be going well!
What’s the best thing about what you’ve done so far?
I am absolutely loving this whole experience. I love having something to focus on at night instead of watching TV (although I still do a lot of that). I don’t work on it every night, but when I do, I just get so into it and have so much passion for the scheme.
I was a speaker at the Your Oldham festival which was terrifying but also an incredibly proud moment where I felt like the scheme was real and great, not just something in my head. I am loving all the fantastic people I have met from all walks of life and I even love the phone calls I receive (often at night) from people who have seen a poster and want to know more. I feel very proud and excited about how far this could go.
Who or what has been your greatest inspiration or influence?
I would have to say my family for this. My grandad had some of the first car showrooms in Oldham and is a true entrepreneur. He always has his fingers in lots of pies, as the saying goes. Even today at 84 yers old he is still buying and selling.
My mum and dad also ran an engineering business in Royton up until his death eleven years ago and I grew up understanding the importance of hard work and persistence. My sister and brother-in-law also run their own successful law firm from their home. So you can see I really am surrounded by people that were brave enough to put themselves out there and go it alone.
What has been the “best mistake” you have made? This can be connected to the scheme or in another area of work or life.
My best mistake was getting in a relationship with a guy from Watford when I was about 25 years old. I moved down south to be with him and was absolutely distraught when he dumped me. However, in my darkest days of heartbreak I made the decision to get as far away as possible from him. This led to me quitting a job in London that I hated, booking a one way ticket to China, which then led to lots of adventures and living in Australia for two years! When I got back aged 30, I started a Social Work course, met my now fiancé and the rest is history!
Has anything surprised you during your work on the Chatty Café scheme?
I have been genuinely surprised at how well it has been received. I love the idea of a Chatter & Natter table because it’s a table that I wanted to sit at. However, I was not expecting other people to be so on board with it too. I thought I would get lots of questions about risk and the risk of strangers talking, but I’ve only been asked about that once!
What’s next for the scheme?
So much! I am now dedicating every Monday to it which will give me time to focus on publicity, getting volunteers, building contacts, apply for funding and lots more. My sister down in Windsor is also keen to get involved, so I’m hoping she can get some venues involved in the south of the country.
Where can we find out more about the Chatty Café scheme?
I am meeting with a lovely web guy next week who is going to help me make the website more interactive with a postcode search, which will be fab. There is also a blog on the website where you can keep up to date with exciting developments. The website also lists all the cafes involved.