04 Oct 2022
St Sidwell's Community Centre
St Sidwell’s Community Centre is a charity with community at its core. Consisting of a community café, garden, bakehouse and cookery school, it offers safe, welcoming opportunities and spaces for people to connect, engage and grow - no matter what their background or circumstance.
Its main centre sits proudly on Sidwell Street in the heart of the city centre, separated from the busy street by a glorious garden - a place of quiet serenity for anyone who needs it. It’s teeming with wildlife and the gentle buzz of staff, who assist volunteers in tending to its plants, fruit and vegetables (including kiwis!).
Beautifully carved benches line the path through the garden, to the vibrant café inside. On the menu? Breakfasts and lunches whipped up using local produce and morish cakes made from scratch, all served by staff and volunteers who want to get a taste of work experience and boost their confidence.
The loaves for sandwiches and soups are lovingly baked at the charity’s very own bakehouse. Customers can not only pop by and pick up a baked good (or two), but also get involved with St Sidwell’s forth offering, its cookery school. It’s here that volunteers struggling with employment can learn skills to help them cook up a storm at St Sidwell’s café, and occasionally where visitors can learn to make the cherished charity sourdough and other delicious dishes.
And it doesn’t end there, because the charity opens its spaces for other community groups to come together, while teaching a free ESOL (English for Speakers of Other Languages) programme. As well as supporting the community through its activities, classes and affordable food, it’s also a place that helps people feel a part of something. Over 144 volunteers value coming to a space that’s so inclusive and non-judgemental.
One volunteer said: “I have learnt so much and have grown in confidence by learning and talking with other volunteers. I have seen other people come out of their depression like myself. It is hard to explain unless you have been there.”
We caught up with two of its team members, Iona and Kyson, to chat about St Sids, its place in the city, and what Exeter means to them.
Kyson, Volunteer Coordinator at St Sidwell’s Community Centre
I grew up in North Devon, and whenever I craved more excitement, I’d go to Exeter. I’d always loved the atmosphere and what it had to offer, the hustle and bustle, its independent shops and music scene. When I made the move here permanently, I was in awe of the city’s diversity. All the different cultures give Exeter a real warmth, friendliness and vibrancy. I love living here.
For an after-work sip, I love Ebdons Deli. It’s a cosy space for a catch-up with friends, and they have a variety of drinks from local producers. And I can’t resist stopping by iFood Thai Taste further down Sidwell Street, where the food is plentiful and full of flavour.
For a bevvy and a boogie, you’ll find me in Bowling Green pub (my local and a convenient stop on the way home!). I also love the Exeter Cavern for its intimate gigs and the indie disco for a Saturday night bop. Oh, and Exeter Phoenix for cinema.
I love the buzz of supporting Exeter City in the Big Bank stand at St James Park on a Saturday. But as well as watching sport, I love a stroll around Ludwell Valley Park and Mincinglake Valley Park. I love running, trail running and wild swimming too. How can you compete with Dartmoor on your doorstep? One of the best bits is knowing that I can get my steps while soaking up the beautiful Devon scenery without jumping in the car, and after a quay run I’ll sometimes stop off at Topsham Brewery for a sundowner.
My eyes were really opened to the inclusivity of Exeter when I started my journey with St Sidwell’s as a volunteer. I’d just returned from travelling, and as I was unemployed, I wanted to give something back to the community. But it gave me so much more. I met new people, learnt new skills, and shared the ones I had. It also helped me settle back into the city and find my feet. I love the sense of community here in Exeter and working with the charity has allowed me to see that it exists everywhere in the city.
Meet Iona, Centre Manager at St Sidwell's Community Centre
I moved to Exeter from London, and have been here almost eight years, so if you’re wondering if I love it, there’s your answer! The time has flown by. I found it a little hard to settle in when I first arrived but volunteering at St Sid’s made me feel more at home. People really help create a sense of place.
I started my volunteering journey by running some bread-making classes for the charity’s volunteers and the Devon Recovery Learning Community. It was so successful that we wanted to make it a permanent activity. After securing funding from Power to Change, the bakehouse was born! It now employs three staff and supports five volunteers each day to learn the art of sourdough baking and customer service. We even deliver bread to independent delis and kitchens across Exeter on the Bluebird, our electric cargo bicycle!
When I’m not working with our lovely staff and volunteers, you’ll find me taking a dip in the sea or river, strolling around Mincinglake Valley Park and Leafland Wood, getting my coffee fix at Crankhouse or having a tipple at Eddons and Topsham Brewery (where I’ll inevitably bump into Kyson).
St Sidwell’s is an important place for so many people living in Exeter, and each purchase the public make is invested back into the charity. So next time you’re strolling along Sidwell Street, why not take a moment in the community garden, grab a coffee from the cafe or buy a homemade bake?
Find out more, here: https://stsidwells.org.uk/