Cafe run by seniors, for seniors, opens in Bukit Batok

Above: Volunteer Mary Sim, 68, serving Madam Tan Keok, 84, at the newly launched Reach Community Cafe in Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. Left: Seniors making pillows out of old T-shirts after having a meal at the cafe. The cafe's aim is to draw older folk
Above: Volunteer Mary Sim, 68, serving Madam Tan Keok, 84, at the newly launched Reach Community Cafe in Bukit Batok West Avenue 4.ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG
Above: Volunteer Mary Sim, 68, serving Madam Tan Keok, 84, at the newly launched Reach Community Cafe in Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. Left: Seniors making pillows out of old T-shirts after having a meal at the cafe. The cafe's aim is to draw older folk
Seniors making pillows out of old T-shirts after having a meal at the cafe. The cafe's aim is to draw older folk who live alone into a social space to "make new friends, enjoy a meal and learn together".ST PHOTO: SEAH KWANG PENG

Volunteers prepare food, brew coffee and befriend older folk who visit the eatery

Tucked away in Bukit Batok is a cheery cafe, with superhero paintings, pop art and quotes on the wall.

A waiter potters about, offering food such as soup and pie to customers who are chatting over coffee.

The Reach Community Cafe is special in that both the service staff and customers are seniors. The staff are volunteers who cook the food, brew coffee and befriend senior citizens who visit the cafe.

The cafe was officially launched yesterday at Block 417, Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. It is run by Reach Community Services Society, a charitable organisation that offers community support and services.

The initiative aims to draw seniors who live alone into a social space to "make new friends, enjoy a meal and learn together", said Reach in a statement.

Five teams of five to seven volunteers each take turns to run the cafe, which is open only on Fridays from 9am to noon.

It operates on a pay-as-you-wish system, and is funded by Reach and a Ministry of Health programme called City For All Ages.

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, and the Environment and Water Resources, officiated the opening.

She suggested the idea of the cafe a year ago, inspired by the Japanese concept of Ibasho Cafe, which engages senior citizens in creating a multi-generational place. "Instead of waiting to receive, the senior citizens are empowered to give. It allows them to age meaningfully, healthily and actively in place," she said.

Dr Khor, who is MP for Hong Kah North, added that the constituency hopes to start two more such cafes in the area.

Hong Kah North, which includes Bukit Batok, has more than 7,000 seniors aged 60 and above, which is about 16 per cent of the total population in the constituency.

The cafe's oldest patron, Madam Tan Keok, 84, a resident, said: "I'm very happy to meet all my friends here. The food is nice and I love the coffee. It is better than staying at home alone."

Retired insurance agent Mary Sim, 68, helps out at the cafe about once a month.

She said: "Now that I have retired, volunteering is a good use of my time. As I serve these patrons and interact with them, it makes me feel young again."

On Friday, the constituency also launched weekly discounts for seniors aged 60 and above at five coffee shops in the area. Healthier cups of coffee and tea will be priced at 50 cents each, lower than the usual 90 cents to $1.

This discount will be applicable every Friday from 10am to 6pm, for a trial period of six months. The costs will be borne by the coffee shops.

Said Mr Soh Koon Ghee, general manager of Chang Cheng Group, which operates a participating coffee shop: "It is good to help seniors in our community and encourage them to choose healthier drinks.

"The lower prices might also draw more seniors and their friends to buy the drinks, increasing our business."

Dr Khor added: "We want the elderly to drink healthier cups of coffee to support the war on diabetes. While doing so, they can also make friends and strengthen their bonds with one another."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2017, with the headline 'Cafe run by seniors, for seniors, opens in Bukit Batok'. Print Edition | Subscribe