We heard from Abdirahim Hassan, co-founder and MD of Coffee Afrik CIC, of how their hubs based in boroughs across London are connecting communities and tackling loneliness.

Tackling loneliness has to start with healing

In my view, place making or tackling loneliness has to start with healing and what healing looks like, through love and forgiveness, within culturally competent spaces. It’s really important to be able to design hubs and community spaces, particularly on estates, which I am passionate about because of the deep inequalities within them.

Coffee Afrik’s mission is to reduce health inequalities by empowering communities to deliver the support they need, creating spaces where people can come together, connect and feel a sense of belonging. One of the ways in which we are achieving this is through our hubs, which are in five, (nearly six!), boroughs across London. These are community spaces where people can come and enjoy a coffee, meet new people, and engage in activities such as workshops and events. The hubs serve as a gathering place for the community, providing a welcoming and inclusive atmosphere where people can connect and build relationships.

Culturally competent places must honour the communities they serve

Our version of how we’ve interpreted place making and hubs is rooted in indigenous wisdom and practice. What does that look like? Culturally competent places must honour the communities they are supposed to be serving. You have to be rooted in community, in order to tackle loneliness within it.

Community for me is the country I was born in, Somaliland, an independent region north of Somalia. In that neighbourhood we feel that we are connected and are similar, or the same as our neighbour. Late nights sitting out drinking tea and eating together as a community are common. Community there, centres on care, on connection, on concern for each other and on faith.

I speak on faith as someone who has practised it through adverse experiences, including sleeping rough as a child. I believe that faith can be very important for tackling loneliness and that we need to design places in a way that centred around people and practices that are about connection.

Practices like Ubuntu, the South African philosophy which emphasises the importance of community, meaning ‘I am, because we are’ are a good way to think about how cultural practice can connect people. In Hawaii there’s the traditional practice of Ho’oponopono, which is about forgiveness and both a communication concept for reconciliation and for restoring self-love and balance. Our hubs build on these practices of love and forgiveness and connecting people and tackling loneliness through that – designing spaces through trauma informed practice.

Our crisis cafe in Hackney

I grew up in Aberfeldy in Tower Hamlets, one of the poorest communities in the UK. It’s a deeply isolated environment and four years ago, I used my lived experience to launch a crisis café in Hackney due to my experiences on that estate. That café, birthed a community garden and food co-ops. This allowed us to gain confidence to deliver hot food but also befriend people. This has led to other hubs, including one with young people who co-designed the space with us; they’ve designed the activities and practices there as well.

We are in a global crisis when it comes to loneliness. It’s important that we challenge systems but also trust the communities we serve for knowing what they need. It’s important to allow people to use their voice and agency to empower them. Through our hubs, we think about how we can honour people and their faith, restoring neighbourly contact, love and forgiveness. We believe that looking at indigenous practices from around the world can improve how we approach communities and tackle loneliness, accepting that it is something that most of us will experience at some point within our lives.