‘It’s knowing you’re not alone anymore’

Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library.  Pictured L-R are Joyce Chau, Dawn Wilby, Dale Knight, Michaela Lowe and Kathleen Allen.
Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library. Pictured L-R are Joyce Chau, Dawn Wilby, Dale Knight, Michaela Lowe and Kathleen Allen.
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On a cold, wet Saturday night, town centre revellers were astonished to see a man handing cup cakes out to homeless people in Blackpool.

But for 46-year-old Wayne Richmond it was just another part of his role as a camerado.

Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library.  Colin Gillatt with Wayne Richmond.

Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library. Colin Gillatt with Wayne Richmond.

At the Living Room Cafe at Central Library the camerados gather to offer friendship, support and a listening ear to those in need.

Some folk are homeless, or recovering addicts but others are from comfortable backgrounds yet still in crisis.

They can all go along to the Living Room and find support.

Wayne, from South Shore, said: “A camerado is someone who can see someone is in trouble and will speak to them, but the most important thing is to listen.

Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library.  Sherri Clarke with Tracy Harvey.

Camerados volunteers and customers at the Living Room Cafe in the Central Library. Sherri Clarke with Tracy Harvey.

“After our Christmas fair, there were some cakes left over in a box.

“So I spent about an hour-and-a-half walking round Blackpool in the rain, and I was speaking to homeless people and handing out the cakes.

“I explained about the camerados and said if you are in need of a hot drink, pop in.

“More than anything it is knowing you are not in a hole on your own.”

Camerados is a national movement whose purpose is to bring friends and purpose into the lives of people going through a tough time.

For Tracy Harvey, 48, and Sherri Clarke, 55, who both live in central Blackpool, it has done just that.

Tracy, a former alcoholic, said: “After I had gone through rehabilitation and treatment, I realised I had associates but not real friends.

“They were drinkers and thought I was a goody two shoes when I stopped. Also I didn’t want to be tempted to drink again.

“But I was isolated and getting more and more depressed just staring at four walls. I was suicidal.

“When I first started coming here I kept myself to myself but then I started joining in.

“Now I have friends and come here three or four times a week.”

Sherri lost her husband three years ago, and was left struggling to make ends meet when her benefits were cut.

She said: “I used to walk through the cafe on my way to a maths class at the library, and then I stopped and started to talk to people.

“My life had imploded around me.

“I have arthritis but I lost my PIP payments and employment support allowance because they said I was fit to work.

“I had to move house and was at my wits end.

“My family has helped as well, but coming here has made a huge difference and now I’m getting my life back on track.”

Living Room manager Michaela Lowe, 50, and trainee Dawn Wilby, 28, see all sorts of people come through the doors.

Michaela said: “We get people from all walks of life.

“If someone has had a bad day or just wants to chill out, it’s a really safe place.”

Dawn added: “Blackpool needed a place like this, and while we’re not a service, we can signpost people to services which may help them.

“There are a lot of people who are isolated or lonely and our motto is friends and purpose.”

The Camerados Living Room opened in June as a pop up cafe but secured funding for another 12 months in September when it received £57,800 from the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office.

Of course not all customers are down on their luck. Many pop in just to enjoy a ‘posh’ coffee for as little as £1.50, while there are panninis, soup and jacket potatoes on the menu.

Every visitor can play their part thanks to a ‘pay it forward’ system to help those less fortunate.

Customers can pay for a drink or meal and tickets are placed on a board for use by folk struggling to pay themselves.

It means everyone can be a camerado.