"Why are the cakes grey? Why do they look sad?"
These are some of the questions we're asked. It's because they're baked by individuals expressing the thoughts and feelings of people living with mental illness. Each cupcake opens a conversation about mental health and helps reduce the barriers that make it so difficult to discuss.
That's why Hope Café is a café with a difference. It's where individuals with lived experience of mental illness can use it in a positive way and access volunteering opportunities. It's about stamping out stigma around mental ill-health one conversation at a time, taking discussions to community settings with 'conversation cakes' in hand.
The grey cake concept started with Miss Cakehead in London. It fit perfectly with everything we were about at Hope Café, so we took it on (with permission from Miss Cakehead, of course) and started running pop-up fundraising events.
The cakes generated so many conversations about mental health in such a short period of time (...and raised us money), that we decided to do more. We started decorating cakes to help organisations generate conversations about topics specific to them. And so 'conversation cakes' began.
Our recent ones were for See Me Scotland National Anti-stigma campaign. 'See Me' cupcakes will be used alongside our grey cakes to spark discussions in workplaces around stigma and discrimination. The absolute beauty of it all is that the cakes are baked by volunteers who find baking therapeutic for managing their mental health
It's a win-win situation!
I think back to one of our earliest volunteer bakers, who was struggling to convey her commitment to her son who had recently been diagnosed with a long term mental illness. For her, baking the cakes opened up a dialogue with him and showed that she supported him fully and wanted to help others too.
Our cakes are also accompanied by key mental health and self-help information. One customer told us that these leaflets had helped her husband understand what life for her was like living with depression.
So... never underestimate the power of a cupcake! At Hope Café, they're stamping out stigma – one cupcake at a time!
Donna Barrowman, a learner currently on the New Start Leadership programme delivered in partnership with Just Enterprise, founded Hope Café Lanarkshire in 2014. Having experience with mental ill health earlier in life, she wanted to cultivate an environment that combined guidance, advice and peer support to ensure people dealing with mental illness were able to live well. The café is a new peer led project in Lanarkshire, providing opportunities for people within Lanarkshire to engage in activities that are proven to support positive mental health and wellbeing and offer valuable peer support to each other.