Playdate Cafe is an oasis of coffee and cake in West Melbourne for mums letting their preschool age children roam happily among a plentiful array of toys.
“As a single mother, I needed a kid-friendly space when my daughter was little,” cafe founder Fiona Adams said.
“I am just creating that space where the mothers and children can belong and feel safe.
“We put up a fence because my daughter was a runner. We have a big space outside. Kids can run as much as they like and not realise they are enclosed.”
The not-for-profit work experience cafe has only been running for three years, but has already amassed 1448 Facebook followers.
It has also been ranked among the top five western Melbourne play cafes by the popular Mamma Knows West social media forum.
Playdate is an outreach of the Port Phillip West Presbytery, which employs Fiona as a pastor. It is a standalone faith community, something Fiona says makes it different from other cafes run by congregations.
“This is the only type of missional cafe in the Port Phillip West Presbytery and in all of VicTas,” she says.
“Our mission statement is to eradicate social and spiritual loneliness. We have regular customers who have been coming since we opened three years ago – they all now have had their second child.
“We’ve grown as a Playdate community. People are inviting other people from the cafe to their homes for birthdays, baby showers and other celebrations.
“We have one lady who doesn’t have any children but everyone has basically adopted her.
“She crochets for new babies and toddlers. It’s a lovely connection. She’s nearly 60.”
Fiona said that with the social side of the cafe being such a success, she was concentrating on meeting spiritual needs.
“When some of the mums are struggling and they need to share their story of not having family here to support them it’s giving them that listening ear,” she said.
“If they need to talk I’m here to listen. I’m not here to give advice.
“What you find is that because they may be in an emotional state they might not find the good news.
“So my job is to find the good news in their story and relate it back to them, so they can find some kind of hope in that moment of grief or anxiety or loss.”
Fiona recently completed the Clinical Pastoral Education (CPE) course offered by Synod’s John Paver Centre.
“We’ve had people who have experienced stillborn and miscarriage,” Fiona said.
“That’s what led me to do the CPE because I really want to be able to care for our community as best I can.
The mum who had the stillborn baby asked me ‘why did God allow this to happen?’
“I said to her ‘I don’t know why this has happened, but I do know that you are here and we will love you and care for you and if that means having coffee with you every day then that is what we will do’.
“It’s simple things like that which build the relationship. It’s that personal relationship people have with each other and with God.
“The next step is reconciling that relationship with God if someone has left the church or doesn’t know God.
“We’re setting the benchmark in how to care for people who are outside of the church.”
The cafe provides on-the-job training and 18 trainees have gone into full-time hospitality work, 5 went into part-time work and 11 into casual jobs
Fiona also sees her mission as building partnerships in the community.
For example, she has partnered with a residential program for men undergoing drug and alcohol rehabilitation that is run by the evangelical Christian Dreambuilders Network.
The men come at the end of each day to help pack up the bigger toys, but they are also learning baking skills with the resulting goodies donated to the cafe.
“When they come in and see that we’ve sold their biscuits and cakes you just see them light up – it makes their day,” Fiona said.
Being a single mother, social entrepreneur and faith leader who is doing a bit of study as well undertaking her period of discernment, you might wonder whether Fiona ever finds time to sit down and enjoy one of the cups of coffee made in her cafe.
“I am trying to cut back on the work I do,” she said.
“One of the things CPE taught me was self-care and boundaries.”
However, it seems unlikely she will slow down anytime soon.
“I want to share the Word,”. Fiona says.
“It’s my job to share the good news story of this place and what God is doing in our little community because I think sometimes congregations and people forget why they became Christian in the first place.
“This cafe is a practical way to get back to that initial buzz of being a disciple and saying ‘I am going to follow in Jesus’s footsteps’.”
Playdate Cafe, 235 Derrimut Rd, Hoppers Crossing, open Wednesday-Friday, 10am-2pm.