New caf in Cowley

A café on the Cowley Road aimed at helping prisoners and recovering addicts back into the community was officially launched last Friday. Refresh is staffed almost exclusively by volunteers from local prisons and addiction recovery schemes.

It was first able to open its doors to customers last October thanks to a £50,000 grant from the Oxfordshire Drug and Alcohol Action Team.

All those who receive the network’s help have suffered from problems with either personal drug use or that of a parent.

Located on Cowley Road, Refresh claims to provide opportunities for employment and training for those who need help rehabilitating themselves into society. This includes a regular group of volunteers from Springhill Open Prison in Buckinghamshire.

Whilst Refresh is largely staffed by these eight regular volunteers, young people that have received exclusions from school also help staff the café when the prison inmates are unavailable.

According to manager Lee Giddings, inmates and excluded are treated exactly the same: “It’s about teaching wider life skills, making it easier for them to be in a community.

“We’re all a team here. I know I’m the manager, but if I ask someone to do something and they can’t, I’ll do it. … We try and see what their strengths are and then we’ll put them in that area.”

Mr Giddings is himself a former inmate of Springhill Prison, having been released two years ago after serving six years for robbery. After participating in several community service schemes and jobs, including teaching social-work courses at Oxford Brookes he decided to open Refresh with the assistance of the Oxfordshire Recovery Network (ORN).

Refresh is the latest initiative of ORN which assists those struggling with addiction in ways as diverse as behavioural change training, employment opportunities and music therapy. According to network manager Glenda Daniels:

“We are hoping … that all the profit will go to fund further activities, learning and training.”

“You’ve got to bear in mind when somebody’s been an addict since their late teens that their whole life has been devoted to making money and buying drugs and they don’t mix with the normal world. When they come into a different environment, sometimes their behaviour can be a bit odd.

Although he admits it has taken a while to establish a link with Springhill, Giddings maintains that being a former inmate makes his advice and the advantages that the café provides more meaningful to its volunteers: “It’s just getting them back to how they used to be. It’s trying to get them confident with the customers and the community again.”

Refresh can be found on the East side of Cowley Road between Princes and Union Streets.