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Wednesday 24 May 2017 – welcoming the stranger

Wednesday 24 May 2017 – welcoming the stranger
May 24, 2017 Anne Browse

You may remember that last year I visited the Isle of Man. An exciting new initiative, Cafe Lingo, was about to be launched in one of the Methodist churches there. I asked Karen Norton if she would write about it for the blog, which she has kindly found time to do. The photo was taken by Dave Kneale, Isle of Man Newspapers. Karen writes:

Cafe Lingo Isle of Man is going from strength to strength.  Based at Promenade Methodist in the capital Douglas, it welcomes newcomers to the Island for whom English is not their native language and teaches them English over a cup of tea or coffee in a friendly, relaxed and safe environment.

It all began just over a year ago at a joint meeting between two Douglas churches, Trinity and Promenade, when concern was expressed about non-English speaking newcomers who struggled to communicate in their daily lives (e.g. at the shops, the doctors and their children’s schools) and who often appeared to be socially isolated.

This seed was sown in the mind of Karen Norton, Promenade Church steward and retired deputy-headteacher.  The idea grew and refused to go away.  Could we as churches share God’s love by meeting this need and teaching English to people of any nationality, age, ability, faith or no faith, free of charge so that no one would be excluded on financial grounds?  Could we do it in such a way that these newcomers would feel relaxed enough to build friendships and integrate more fully into the Manx way of life?

The strong feeling was, “Yes, it can be done.”

And so the work began. The ‘Prom’ Church sponsored Karen to undergo a training course on Teaching English as a Foreign Language through Christian TEFL.  Space was cleared in the Prom’s Top Hall by members of the Church family and decorated for free by a banking company.  Links were established with churches of many different denominations, non- Christian religious organisations and numerous other community groups. Publicity was generated through the local media and the distribution of leaflets.  A bank of volunteers was recruited and trained.

Cafe Lingo opened its doors in October 2016 and since then has welcomed  84 ‘students’ (and some of their children) from 18 different countries around the world.  Most come back again and again and there are usually between 15-25 each week.  

The sessions are officially one hour long, but students are reluctant to leave so it’s usually closer to two!  Each week we teach social expressions and English around a theme, such as food shopping, transport, getting help or even Art.  There’s a termly brunch, which is much appreciated by the students. Everyone brings food to share (truly international in flavour!) and donations are made to a chosen charity.  

“The atmosphere is always very friendly and interactive,” says Karen.  “It is so satisfying to watch our students’ confidence grow.  This can only work because of the dedication of our lovely volunteers, the support of Promenade Church and the goodwill that has emerged from the Manx community.  I have always felt that this project to ‘Welcome the Stranger’ was Spirit-led. It is amazing!”