When you walk into The Shoebox Community Hub, there’s a very good chance that you’ll be welcomed by Shaun, as he is one of the hub’s most familiar friendly faces – welcoming visitors, running coffee mornings and organising activities.

Yet when Shaun first walked into The Shoebox four years ago, when it was known as KindaKafe, he was in a very different place in his life. Depressed, anxious and unable to connect with people, he was convinced that no one liked him and that he had little to offer others.

Back in 2018, it was the tasty food of the cafe, which used to be where the hub now is, which initially attracted Shaun through the door. One day, he overheard someone say that they needed some volunteers.

“I volunteered for a four-hour shift helping with the washing-up in the kitchen and then that extended to working on a Friday in the café.”

“At the start, I was really bad at my job,” laughs Shaun. “I wasn’t a very good waiter. I’d bring people their food but would forget to bring them any cutlery! Over time though, I got a little bit better at it.”

Volunteering has helped Shaun to develop his self-confidence, as he explains: “When I started at The Shoebox, I didn’t have a very good image of myself. I wore scruffy clothes and that was reflected in my personal hygiene. Coming here gave me a bit of a boost. I started to keep myself fresh and clean. It helped me to up my game.”

Shaun also enjoyed meeting with and talking to the members and it wasn’t long before the General Manager saw that he had a real rapport with visitors.

“She noticed something in me that I did recognise in myself. She said I was very welcoming and asked if I would like to host the weekly Community Coffee Morning. I wasn’t sure at first, but it’s given me a bit of responsibility and I like welcoming people.”

The main purpose of The Shoebox Community Hub is to help people connect with others through activities and social groups. One of the reasons Shaun is so good at welcoming people is because he knows how difficult it can be to walk into a place for the first time.

“I’ve been in that position and you’re always grateful when someone comes and says hello to you. Even though I’ve been coming here regularly for years now, I still struggle sometimes to get out the door in the morning. When I feel like that, I try to focus on an hour ahead, because I know when I get here, I’ll have a good time.”

Volunteer Hub Helpers

“When I was growing up, I always felt that no one liked or loved me,” continues Shaun. “I went into care when I was nine. Then at school, I was called ‘Borstal boy’ because I lived in a children’s home, even though it wasn’t my fault I was there. I thought that if my parents wanted to get rid of me, there must be something wrong with me and I’ve carried that through my life.”

“I never used to trust anyone. It’s embarrassing, but it’s taken me a long while to realise that just because someone is nice to me, they’re not going to try and take advantage of me. For years, I was so angry about all that had happened to me when I was young, that I couldn’t make friends. But being so angry is exhausting – you miss out on so much of life.”

At The Shoebox, Shaun has found purpose in his life and it has helped him manage his depression.

“It’s a volunteering job, but I do receive wages. My wages are when a member says that they like to see me at the coffee morning on a Monday or if they give me little compliments. I feed off that. I think I’ve gone from strength to strength here. It makes me think that if I had been given this positivity earlier on as a child, then maybe I wouldn’t have wasted so many years.”

Shaun has been hosting his weekly coffee morning for over a year now. “I’ve noticed that when I smile, I get a positive response. I’m learning about trust and I know now that it can be as simple as saying hello to someone. Nothing’s put on here. Everyone is so genuine.”

As well as running the coffee morning every week, Shaun has attended cookery and baking sessions at The Shoebox, is part of a book club with other members and helps out wherever he can.

Mark Ahier and Shaun at a Baking for Wellbeing session

“I’ve just gone back to my old ways – the proper way. The Shoebox has helped me build up my confidence. It has given me friendships and I’ve found somewhere where when people say they like me, I have started to believe them. I am a success story. I’ve found love here.”

“My life has been depressing, but I’m getting to a place where I’m much more comfortable in my own skin. I’m getting to feel like a regular guy again and it’s all down to this place.”

“If you’re lonely and looking to make new friends, I would definitely recommend you come and join us at The Shoebox. You’ll always get a warm drink and a warm welcome and, you never know, like me…it may change your life.”

If you’d like to find out more about the different groups and activities available at The Shoebox why not pop along to our weekly coffee morning? Join us on a Monday morning from 10.30am-12.30pm to meet Shaun and other friendly faces!

Thank you to Shaun for sharing his story and to Diane Church for capturing it so wonderfully.