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From Britain to Ballarat, Graham offers warm coffee and a listening ear

Corps Officer Lieutenant Graham Kennedy in the kitchen at Cafe@102 in Ballarat, Victoria.
Corps Officer Lieutenant Graham Kennedy in the kitchen at Cafe@102 in Ballarat, Victoria.

When Lieutenant Graham Kennedy was conducting funerals in a Church of England parish in the UK several years ago, he had an encounter that sparked a new idea for ministry.

The parish was hosting back-to-back funerals, and Graham said he had only an hour to reset the room for the next service. While he was rearranging the room, he noticed a woman who had been at the first funeral sitting in the hall.

“I approached her and asked, ‘Do you know the next people as well?’ because I was thinking to myself how unfortunate this lady was to know two people to have passed away and attend two funerals on the same day?” he said. “She said ‘No. I don’t really know the next people and I only vaguely knew the last person, but I’ve got nowhere to go. I don’t want to go home. I’ve got my favourite chair in the corner of my room. I lost my husband a few years ago and all I do is sit in that chair and stare at the dark’.”

This conversation prompted Graham to start a community cafe in the church hall, which quickly grew popular. When Graham returned to Australia and accepted a posting in Ballarat, Central Victoria, with The Salvation Army, he decided to begin a similar program.

At the start of July, Cafe@102 launched at Ballarat Salvos. In the first week, 250 people came for a meal, a cup of coffee and a chat. The cafe offers clientele the chance to give a gold coin donation to cover costs, but Graham said some gave more generously.

“People here are happy to pay it forward,” he said. “We’ve had $20 notes put in there as well as the gold coins. But if people can’t afford it, they know they’re welcome to just sit and enjoy with us.”

Pleasant touches at the cafe include flowers on the tables.

Graham said the demographic of Ballarat tended towards high unemployment and that rental and mortgage stress was starting to wear on local residents. He said he had been discussing rate rises with homeowners visiting the cafe who were experiencing the shock of sudden increases in repayments.

“I’ve noticed on Marketplace people are selling their second car and it’s staying on the market for a long time,” he said. “You can see the prices are dropping and people are desperate.”

Graham said the cafe featured a full commercial kitchen with a large coffee machine, and that the atmosphere in the room was warm.

“People come in and they instantly feel welcome,” he said. “You’ve got that low constant chatter as well, and I think that’s what opens people up. It feels very human in there.”

Volunteer Mark Lange makes coffees for patrons at Cafe@102.


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