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HomeLatest NewsThe Mind Cafe closure looms: the cafe that extends its hand needs...

The Mind Cafe closure looms: the cafe that extends its hand needs one back

A chat over a cup of coffee can symbolise many things, a catch-up with an old friend, a new beginning with a first date, or even a make-or-break business proposition.

But for The Mind Cafe in Narrabeen, a cup of coffee symbolises wellness and how a community can respond to a cry for help when someone holds out their hand, at least that’s how founder Guy Morel sees it.

“For me, it’s always a two-way exchange… reaching back is just as important because there are a lot of people, part of our community that are willing to help, but the person who needs it needs to have that strength to actually reach back for us”, Guy explained.

For years the cafe has been servicing the community, employing those living with a disability, providing food for those in a vulnerable spot and, since early 2023 also hosting a safe space and counselling for people with emotional distress or suicidal thoughts.

The cafe has become a staple that many locals depend on, and unfortunately, it is undergoing dire financial strain and set to close without intervention.

The business is scrambling to look at ways to make it more sustainable long term, but needs financial support to keep it afloat in the interim. They are currently about halfway of reaching the $20,000 goal.

The Mind Cafe is set to permanently shut down in April this year.

Guy felt disappointed about letting the community down over the cafe closure and was initially reluctant towards asking for help out of his financial situation.

But much like the spirit that embodies the store, once he announced the cafe’s deadline on, swarms of people offered to reach out their hands.

“You know, to be honest, when I told that message I felt defeated, I just thought there is no way out.

“But once we put that message out there without asking for help, people held all their hands up to help us. It’s like the most amazing thing – it makes me puts hope in what we’re doing,” Guy said enthusiastically.

It’s not the first time the cafe owner has risen from the ashes.

Guy reflected on a time when the only thing stopping him from taking his own life was a last-minute helping hand from a friend.

The now cheery cafe owner had a particularly difficult upbringing.

Guy says his mother and sister were both sex workers and he was often brought to the brothel when quite young. He said he had unpleasant father figures in his life.

“I probably didn’t really understand how that trauma will take you later on in life,” he reflected.

“In 2018 I separated from my wife, I started just drinking myself silly, being addicted to those things that make me feel safe – it then got to a point where my mental health had hit rock bottom.

“I tried to take my life in that year if it wasn’t for a friend… He took me into the cold shower – I can only remember little bits and pieces of him smacking me – trying to make sure that I’m conscious, I should have been gone, I should have, I shouldn’t be here today at all.”

“I had to wake up that next morning and think, what am I doing?

“And then I was like, okay, if I hit rock bottom, there’s only one way out, and that’s when I tried to do things more revolving with purpose.”

Guy decided to extend his hand by involving himself in not-for-profits as well as support work connected to those living with disabilities and mental health issues.

Twin brothers John and Thomas are employees at the cafe and make the best caramel slice

From this, his years of experience working with those groups of people combined with his years employed within hospitality spawned the idea of The Mind Cafe.

Jump forward from 2018 when Guy relied on a friend to save him when he needed it most, the Mind Cafe now has a network of people who depend similarly on the business.

Every weekday morning counsellors and trained volunteers – through the suicide prevention organisation MoWaNa – use the store to partake in ‘Coffees with Kindness’ a program where people who are feeling low, distressed or suicidal can seek advice and comfort.

They also use the cafe after hours as a ‘safe space’ on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights for a similar interaction.

Australia Day 2024 Award winner – Senior Citizen of the Year, Aileen Ogilvie – who has been working as a lifeline counsellor on the Northern Beaches for 37 years – is just one of the volunteers on roster.

Aileen Ogilvie, is an Australia Day 2024 Award winner – Senior Citizen of the Year.

Alison, who is physically impaired, came into the cafe one day after waking up feeling particularly low.

“I woke up really, really depressed and then I didn’t know what to do, I came down here with my electric scooter and then I met, met a few people down here.

“And then I just sat down with a few people and they made me, made me feel so happy and I stayed here for, I don’t know how long I stayed here, I must have stayed here for about three or four hours – and then I went home feeling so, so over the moon.”

Those who enter the cafe with their mug half empty are encouraged to take a dip from ‘The Bowl of Kindness’, an initiative where a stranger from the community can buy food and coffee for $5 which is then given to people having a tough time or are low on funds.

Kenny, who is a friendly regular of the cafe and a frequent user of this service, says this kindness keeps him going.

“I come here because everyone is very kind to each other… and you never feel judged because you got a big beard, long hair and dirty clothes.”

Guy and a cafe local posing in front of the Kindness Jar.

The business crafts hope for people and provides purpose for others.

It not only hosts weekly groups of people living with disabilities and special needs from SunnyField and CM Care but employs them too.

“We got about three or four volunteers that have disabilities”, Guy proudly exclaims.

“Their confidence from when they came here day one within the team to where they are now, it’s, it’s crazy.

“They’ve changed with the changes and what they can provide, because first, maybe their skill set was quite limited, but then when you empower them, telling them they can do it, and having the support of all the team members, they get the confidence in what they can do.”

Joe, who lives with a learning disability and is a valued volunteer at the cafe, is incredibly appreciative of the employment opportunity and looks to the community to help save his job.

“I like working here because it’s a nice cafe and I like all the guys and I like Guy and all those guys.

“I say to the people – please save The Mind Cafe!”

Cafe founder guy and volunteer Joe

The cafe’s accountant, Kristie Howse, decided set up a GoFundMe for the store.

In five days the page has received over $10,000 in donations but still needs double this to stay open for a prolonged amount of time.

Although the road ahead is uncertain, Guy has high hopes his business will prevail and is already looking into ways to make the business more sustainable.

“Obviously in the meantime, I have to look at costings a little bit more, but I don’t want to shift too much from my purpose.”

“We’re not looking to make profits, but we’re looking to make a difference in the community… There is an idea, though, of becoming a charity, so maybe that’s an option for us.”