Cork now has its own 'Café Conversations'

Every month, a group of strangers meet for coffee and a chat at Cork City Library on the Grand Parade. MARY ROSE MCCARTHY tells us more about ‘Café Conversations’.
Cork now has its own 'Café Conversations'
Café Conversation founders Eilis Dillion, and Joanna Dukkipati. The event runs at Cork City Library every month.

ON the second Monday of each month at the City Library on Grand Parade, a group of people gather together.

The event, called Café Conversations, is the brainchild of Eilis Dillion, and Joanna Dukkipati, who set up ThinkSpeakDo, a non-profit events management company that helps the community sector stage seminars, meetings or events that bring people together.

Working on the model of the Global Conversation Café, the duo approached other stakeholders with a view to having such an event in Cork. Community Resource Support and Cork City Libraries were delighted to come on board.

Joanna and Eilis explain the format of the morning.

“It is a loose structure, we usually ask a speaker to take around five to eight minutes to say hello and outline a little about themselves or what they do and touch upon the conversation topic.

“After that, it is a free flow where the most important thing is the conversation, that people are allowed to speak, and be heard.

“The speaker’s role is to connect and offer advice and keep the conversation going, rather than offer a lecture.

“Attendees are seated around tables in small groups. Each table has questions and topics relevant to the theme, designed by ThinkSpeakDo. There are three to four rounds of 15 minutes each.”

The topic for May was storytelling while June’s topic was travel. Food is another popular one.

Global Café Conversation etiquette suggests: focus on what matters, contribute your thinking, speak your mind and heart, listen to understand, link and connect ideas, listen together for deeper insights and questions, play doodle draw, have fun.

Yvonne Moloney, Executive librarian for Community and Exclusion, outlines why it is such a great event.

She said: “Conversation Café is a welcoming social space for anyone to come along and enjoy conversation and refreshments, with others, on a variety of topics each month. It has been very well received by a wide range of participants from across the community.

“It has steadily gained traction and profile with an ever-increasing following throughout Cork city and on social media.

Conversation Cafe at Cork City Library.
Conversation Cafe at Cork City Library.

“Since its inception in September, 2018, we have observed how this simple idea has addressed a vital need in the city, creating a space for isolated people to feel welcome and connect and communicate with others. People arrive as strangers and in some cases continue the conversation over coffee afterwards.

“Cork City Libraries is responsive to enhancing real inclusion for the citizens of Cork, and we continually strive to inspire, connect, and empower communities. The aim of the initiative is to encourage Cork’s new citizens, of migrant origin, and Cork’s denizens, to meet in an informal café style setting in the City Library and discuss pertinent life and literary topics and make connections.

“Conversation Cafe has brought people of all ages and from all lifestyles together in a supportive and inclusive space. On behalf of Cork City Libraries, I look forward to continuing to ensure that people in our communities who feel isolated or alone can connect and chat with others.”

Donna Rose, from Community Resource Support, explained how Fitzgerald Actuarial supports Conversation Café.

“Community Support Resources is different in that it is an integral part of a consultancy company Fitzgerald Actuarial. Michael Fitzgerald is an actuary and director of the overall company. He feels that companies owe a responsibility to their community as well as their staff and owners, so he set up the concept behind Community Support Resources four years ago.

“While Community Support Resources doesn’t generate revenue for the company, it is still core to our business. I am an employee rather than a volunteer but my sole role is to support community initiatives.

“I have been involved in volunteer community work before but Conversation Café is a new, and hopefully more impactful, way of supporting community initiatives.

“We support the Conversation Cafe because the City Libraries are very inclusive places and this initiative, initially championed by Breda Hassett of the Library Service and my former colleague Georgia Hopkins, is open to all, is welcoming, and provides positive connection. It provides a safe space for people who may feel marginalised to connect with the community and each other.

“It’s successful so our hope is that the idea will expand beyond the hour a month over time. We also hope other companies will adopt such a targeted strategy to meet their corporate social responsibility.”

An older Irish participant at the café shared what the event means to them: “If this wasn’t here I’d never have said hello to anyone other than an Irish person. Today, I learned about different cultures and their stories.”

Irish, Argentinian, Chinese, Japanese, American, Dutch, English, Jordanian, and Spanish are just some of the nationalities one is likely to meet on the second Monday of every month at Café conversation. Every month is different and everyone is welcome.

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