Guest blog: a warm welcome at REfUSE

Lisa arrived at the cafe and offered to ‘Pay As You Feel’ for her tea and cake with her writing skills: here is a guest blog on her experience!

This was my second visit to REfUSE Cafe, and I can honestly say that from the moment that I walked in on both occasions the warmth and energy was just amazing! I had contacted the cafe a few weeks ago to find out about becoming a volunteer and after meeting Nikki and Mim I was invited back the following week to have lunch and spend some time in the cafe writing a blog post.

The cafe has a chilled and friendly vibe, and the staff and customers were all happy and relaxed. I soon settled in at the volunteer’s table where I was welcomed by Mim, and enjoyed a cup of tea before deciding what to order. The lunch options were: – Chilli con Carne and rice, Garlic and Thyme Chicken with new potatoes, and Mediterranean bruschetta with pasta salad and green leaves. I had arrived quite late into lunch period, so some of the options had already sold out; the lunch-time rush had been and gone with people queuing at midday! I decided on the Mediterranean bruschetta with pasta salad, which was vegetarian and absolutely delicious!

As I sat enjoying my lunch some new customers came in who hadn’t been to the cafe before. Nikki explained to them the way that REfUSE works. Each day the menu is displayed on the board above the counter; the menu changes daily depending on the food that is available. Brunch is usually served up until midday, and then lunch is available until 3pm. Between 3pm and 4pm it is possible to order drinks and food from the chilled counter where there was a selection of pastries and cakes.


REfUSE is a pay-as-you-feel cafe. Pay-as-you-feel means that there is no set price on the food, and people are invited to make a donated based on what they feel their meal is worth. The payment system is discreet, which allows customers to enjoy great food regardless of their financial status. Once you have decided what you would like to eat, you decide how you would like to pay. You can pay by card, where you type in the amount you want to pay on the screen, or you can pay in cash by taking an envelope. There is also an option to offer skills or services in exchanged for your meal. I ask Nikki about this and she explains that some customers volunteer their time for example by helping in the cafe e.g. clearing tables, or tidying away the toys in the children’s play area. Nikki mentions a Plumber who had visited the cafe and noticed that the toilet needed fixing, so offered his services as a Plumber in exchange for his meal.

After being here for a while it was easy to forget that all of the food would have otherwise been wasted had it not been intercepted by the cafe. Everything that is served has been collected from local shops, supermarkets and businesses. It is important to note that REfUSE adheres strictly to all Environmental Health regulations and has a 5* Food Hygiene rating. One of the volunteers also tells me about the awards that REfUSE has recently received – 3 Durham County Council Environment Awards, including an ‘Outstanding’ award!


There is a community notice board, a book exchange, a children’s play area with toys, and a ‘waste-not’ shop selling plastic free products such as reusable cups and bamboo toothbrushes. There is also a community market where customers can buy food to take home, like the cafe this is also pay-as-you-feel, and there is a box for donations.

Over the course of the afternoon I am joined by several volunteers, Nikki, and Mim in between the busyness of serving customers and kitchen duties. I enjoy chatting to everyone I meet; they are all so passionate about what they are doing and REfUSE.

Looking around the cafe it is clear to see the hard work, care and attention that goes into everything here. The open inclusive environment is something that feels really special, everyone is welcome to get involved and everyone’s contribution is valued.

I feel grateful to have experienced REfUSE and have learnt so much from my visit. If you are thinking of visiting the cafe just do it, you will be guaranteed a warm welcome and delicious food!

– Lisa Searell

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