Let’s talk about death: Redbridge churches run cafes for the bereaved

PUBLISHED: 15:29 21 November 2017 | UPDATED: 15:29 21 November 2017

Loss and Bereavement Café regular Raymond Freestone, 90, has coffee with Vicar Martyn Hawkes. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar

Loss and Bereavement Café regular Raymond Freestone, 90, has coffee with Vicar Martyn Hawkes. Photo: Aaron Walawalkar


Redbridge’s recently bereaved are finding comfort in tea, coffee and conversation at a series of drop-in cafés taking place in two Anglican churches.

Volunteers with the Rev Martyn Hawkes at the Bereavement Cafe at Christ Church in WansteadVolunteers with the Rev Martyn Hawkes at the Bereavement Cafe at Christ Church in Wanstead

Loss and bereavement cafes are being run monthly at St Mary’s in Woodford High Road and Christ Church in Wanstead Place.

Currently six or seven residents on average attend weekly with half members of the church and the others belonging to different faiths or none.

Rev Martyn Hawkes, Anglican vicar of St Gabriel’s in Aldersbrook, runs the project with the support of volunteers.

Explaining the idea behind it, Martyn said: “Well it is a tried and tested model that food and drink are a way in which you can break down barriers.

“We are aware what we are doing is not professional counselling.

“But we provide a space for people to communicate with each other and listen.”

The vicar leads different conversation themes at each cafe, previously covering subjects such as family, anger and personal wellbeing.

Lifelong Chigwell resident Raymond Freestone, 90, attends every fortnight since losing his wife to breast cancer in August last year.

Attending the cafe at Christ Church on Tuesday, November 21, he said: “It gives me time to talk about my life and it relaxes me a little emotionally. It helps.”

Reflecting on his late wife, he added: “We were married for 47 years.

“She was Roman Catholic and I was Church of England, we met in the ABC tearooms in Ilford High Road.”

Raymond visits Chigwell cemetery daily to light a candle by his wife’s grave.

Another attendee, who preferred not to be named, said: “I lost my best friend last March.

“I never coped with losing him so I bottled it up. But I have learned it is important to get it out.”

A member of the church who was attending for the first time added that he had enjoyed discussing spirituality and faith.

The cafes run on the first Tuesday of the month, 7pm to 8.30pm, at St Mary’s Church, Woodford High Road and every third Tuesday of the month, 10.45am to noon, at Christ Church in Wanstead.

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