The value of Help

The value of help, of thanking people and of not missing people off your thank you list…

by Fin Irwin

Last week we opened our cafe to the public. It’s not quite finished and work continues in the kitchen and accessible toilet, but the serving area and the coffee machine is functioning. It’s the culmination of a long year of waiting for leases to be finalised, funding to be in place and people's availability to be pinned down. The quotes we had for work by larger companies left little room to be flexible and through a series of serendipitous encounters, we managed to piece together a team of people who would give time or resources, that would mean we could get more for less.

The first credit in this journey goes to the designer, Stephen Tozer. A recent graduate from Falmouth University in Interior Design. The initial conversation was that he could come up with some ideas that would be a good showcase for his new portfolio. The reality was that Stephen was in here until 8pm the night before we opened creating the graphics on the walls. He’s been part of the whole process and having him on board with his excellent creative vision has been incredible.

Then we had to get the planning permission, which was done with grateful assistance from Colin Bell and Richard Kitson. Once this was in place and after finalising Stephen’s designs, one of our most dedicated volunteers, Victor Mann, persuaded Howdens to donate some kitchen units, Jewson’s gave us a staff discount card for the ply, RGB and Homebase donated some paint and Bodmin College Construction department, under the supervision of their teacher Martin Mchugh were going to come in and put it all together. But as the weeks ticked by and the summer holidays loomed closer, we struggled to find the consecutive days for them to come in and work on the project, until the end of July came and it was too late to get them in. In the meantime, we had a stud wall to take down and a new one to build, flooring to get laid and new drainage to be dug in the garden. I bumped into an old school friend (Nick Dalton) at an event, a builder by trade, who came in and sorted out the drainage with his dad and then came back again to plaster the walls.

The safety flooring was supplied and laid for a very good price by John, down the road at The Carpet Shop. As for the walls, water piping and the ever-growing list of ‘little things’ we had Adam Walker. I met Adam in this building when he came to help his friend paint the studio upstairs, back when it was set to be a yoga studio. Adam has three degrees, a good knowledge of just about everything and dog called Ruby. He agreed initially to come in and help lay some pipe work in the ceiling to bring the water down to the cafe and then he kept telling me ‘I could do that for you’. He’s done some plumbing, some masonry, some carpentry - he’s been in nearly every day for the last three months helping with one job or another. We have paid him, but for half the amount of work he’s actually done. He’s still here now, making good the loose ends that were abandoned last week.

So back to the end of July, when Bodmin College managed to get in and build the book case but couldn’t do the rest. That’s when we called in Martin Matthews, a chippy who worked with Marion at Eden. Martin and Adam built the bar. Throughout, we had the excellent Edwin Dyer coming in to move a 32a socket, move some lights, add this, change that and generally keep up with the ongoing list of all things electric. Ed’s ongoing message was ‘yeah, we can do that, no dramas’. This attitude has mostly prevailed with everyone we’ve worked with. It’s debatable whether we achieved it all, with no dramas…

The build actually started back in September 2018, we had our first painting party, followed by the stage building (with a generous donation of timber from the Duchy of Cornwall and milling by J Toms and Sons). Over the year we have had at least 20 different people pick up a paint brush. Special mention, however, has to go to Alan Brown, David Coker, Roland Oakley and Pete Smith. Alan prepped and painted the entire vestibule on his own, he and Dave painted the staircase and the kitchen, Roland has been in doing little electrical jobs and Pete was in for a good solid three days prior to opening doing anything we asked him.

The final credit goes to Marc and Sirone, who now run the Ola Cafe in The Old Library. It’s Marc and Sirone that I failed to mention in my speech at the Autumn Season Launch Party last week. When I realised, I felt terrible. I can’t say how they were missed off, maybe because they’ve been so intrinsically involved from the start. Marc was instrumental in the establishment of intoBodmin itself back in 2017. He and I went to Truro and bought the coffee machine and church pew back in March 2018, looking ahead to the cafe space in the new venue. They have supported the whole project from the outset and done a huge amount to help in creating the space, remaining positive and enthusiastic despite the long wait to officially open the doors to the public. Now that they have, they will do a great job running the cafe!

This post is about the value of help - but even though we have received a lot for free and for discounted rates, the project has still cost a fairly significant amount. The money for this has been raised through donations from the Big Lottery’s Awards for All, from Rotary Club of Bodmin who gave us money for the tables and towards the cost of installing the accessible toilet, from AvantRural, who I used to run music events with and through donations from the Founding Supporters.

And so, what’s the value of help? I could probably work out a monetary value based on a rough idea of hours given, but that’s not the value I’m talking about. The value is in sentiment, emotion and the sense of ownership. There are around 30 tradespeople and volunteers who have had a hand in the building and decorating of The Old Library cafe, not to mention the 50 plus volunteers who have stewarded events and distributed fliers and leaflets over the last year. For every person who’s given us an hour of their time, they now feel invested in The Old Library, they are part of something that’s growing. They’ve spoken to me and Marion and Sophie, they understand a little more about how the building and the organisation has grown and therefore feel more equipped to tell other people about it all. So, the value of their help is exponential; the more people that engage with our project, the more the project grows and the more the project grows, the more need and opportunity there is for help.

It’s safe to say that we wouldn’t exist without help and that we’d be struggling financially without free help - skilled and unskilled. And I like to think that there are people who hav