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Hipster cafe run by senior citizens

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Yuen Sin on 10 Dec 2018

The Straits Times

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They pick up new skills, build new ties at cafe that forms part of VWO's senior activity centre

 

In a brightly lit space right next to Khatib MRT station, baristas togged out in striped aprons pull espresso shots and steam milk to create latte art.

 

Meanwhile, customers sip their brew as a large poster near the entrance greets patrons with cheeky puns: "How do I feel when there is no coffee? Depresso, Kopiless, Lattegic."

 

The trendy cafe is located in a 356 sq m space at the void deck of a multi-storey carpark at Block 813 Khatib Court. The cafe is part of a senior activity centre which Sasco Senior Citizens' Home opened in October last year.

 

The voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) aims to help senior citizens remain relevant in the community by helping them learn new skills, and having a cafe means that new relationships and community networks can be developed across generations as well, said Ms Germaine Ong, head of the home's social enterprise department.

 

She added that the cafe was designed by employees of the VWO.

 

Sasco, or the Singapore Amalgamated Services Co-operative Organisation, was established on Nov 16, 1933, as a coordinating body for 12 thrift and loan cooperatives.

 

The VWO under the coopera-tive runs a shelter for the elderly destitute, four daycare centres for the aged and two senior activity centres.

 

Of the cafe, Ms Ong, 39, said: "We wanted to make this a hip space where seniors can be seen differently, and help seniors elevate their sense of self-worth by staying on top of trends, such as the popularity of gourmet coffee these days."

 

A total of 15 retirees aged between 54 and 77 now serve as senior volunteers at the cafe. They are paid a token sum for performing tasks such as brewing coffee, serving buns from a popular Japanese bakery and manning the cash register.

 

Daily operations at the cafe, which is open from 9am to 9pm from Monday to Saturday, are customised to meet the seniors' needs, said Ms Ong.

 

For instance, a bun and a coffee set costs $3.50, so that the seniors do not have to figure out the different prices.

 

They go through basic training in food hygiene and customer service before they embark on their shifts, which are structured around their schedule and needs. Most live near the senior activity centre, which offers free or subsidised classes for senior citizens, such as English and baking classes.

 

Mr Chua Kok Leong, 54, a retired taxi driver, is a team leader at the cafe. He signed up to volunteer late last year after he stopped working.

 

"Staying at home can get quite lonely as my wife and two daughters are away at work during the day. But here, I can meet so many volunteers and people from the neighbourhood, and also pick up new skills," said Mr Chua, who works at the centre six days a week.

 

His fellow volunteer, former bookshop assistant Phang Jee Eng, 58, feels her spirits have been lifted since she began volunteering at the cafe in March. She mainly handles the cash register.

 

"The main difference is that we are not here just to work, but also to serve the community since this space is run by a charity. I used to count the hours till I could knock off, (but) now I don't want to go home even when my shift is over.

 

"The work is not so stressful and people here are friendly," said Madam Phang, who has three children aged between 23 and 31, and works four-hour shifts about three to four days a week.

 

Customers include students, especially during exam periods.

 

Ang Mo Kio resident Jason Fan, 37, who is in between jobs, visits the cafe about once a week when he is in Yishun to meet his friend.

 

"They make decent coffee and the staff here are friendly... You don't really think of it as a space for senior citizens alone."

 

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.

 

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