SINGAPORE - Tucked away in Bukit Batok is a cheery cafe, with pop art and superhero paintings, and quotes on the wall. A cafe server potters about, offering food such as soup and pie to customers who are chatting away over coffee.
This sounds like an ordinary cafe set-up. But what is special is that both servers and customers are seniors. The servers are not paid staff, but volunteers who take turns to cook, brew and befriend senior citizens who visit the cafe.
Customers can also choose to pay whatever amount they want for orders at the cafe.
The cafe was officially launched on Friday (Oct 6) at the Youth Powerhouse at Block 417, Bukit Batok West Avenue 4. Youth Powerhouse is run by Reach, a charitable organisation that offers community support and services.
It is funded by Reach and a Ministry of Health programme called City for All Ages.
The initiative aims to draw seniors who live alone or who are "at risk of social isolation" out into a social space to "make new friends, enjoy a meal and learn together", said Reach in a statement on Friday.
Five teams consisting of five to seven volunteers each run the cafe every Friday from 9am to noon. The menu changes according to the team that is in charge that week. Meal-wise, the cafe serves breakfast but not lunch.
Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Environment and Water Resources, and Health, was at the launch.
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 our seniors to age meaningfully, healthily and actively in place," she said.
Dr Khor, who is also MP for Hong Kah North, added that the constituency hopes to start two more such cafes in the area.
Hong Kah North has more than 7,000 senior citizens aged 60 and above, which is about 16 per cent of the total population in the constituency.
On concerns that the cafe’s pay-as-you-wish model could be abused, Mr Ivan Ho, a Reach staff member and manager of the senior citizens programme at Bukit Batok, acknowledged that this could happen.
“But more than anything, we are just trying to encourage senior citizens to come out of their houses and interact with others,” he said.
“So far, the response has been positive and most people who come have donated a sum of money when they leave. We also interact with the patrons to tell them about the purpose of the cafe and so on, so they don’t take it for granted."
On Friday, the constituency also launched weekly discounted coffee for seniors at five coffee shops in the area.
Those aged 60 and above can buy healthier cups of coffee and tea, such as kopi, teh kosong and teh siu dai, for 50 cents, lower than the usual 90 cents to a dollar per cup.
This discount will be applicable every Friday from 10am to 6pm. It will be implemented for a trial six-month period.
Dr Khor said: "We want the elderly to drink healthier cups of kopi to support the war on diabetes. While doing so, they can also make friends and strengthen their bonds with one another."