Dr Andrea Loader interview: The community GP

Gloucester GP Dr Andrea Loader helped to set up a community coffee shop.

Dr Loader (right) with colleague Phil Pavey, helping out inthe coffee shop
Dr Loader (right) with colleague Phil Pavey, helping out inthe coffee shop

How did you get involved in the community coffee shop?

I have lived in the Kingsholm area of Gloucester for nine years and during that time, I have developed great relationships with friends and neighbours in the locality.

For some time, a bunch of us have wanted to see our neighbourhood improving and developing a greater sense of community. We have been involved in the local mums' groups, dads' football and community breakfasts.

We realised that Kingsholm really lacked a hub or heart - there was nowhere for people to get together to make new friendships, nowhere for the young or the elderly to go.

This is also an area with poor rates of youth employment and a general lack of opportunities. Kingsholm is a very diverse area and parts of it are socially deprived.

The idea for a coffee shop and community space came one day about three years ago, when a couple of our friends noticed that there was an old, derelict building for sale in the heart of Kingsholm.

We looked around it and dreamt of breathing life back into it, and into the neighbourhood.

The building was in a very bad way, needing head-to-toe renovation, but the space was amazing and had so much potential.

After three years of hard work, devotion, money, blood, sweat and tears, Roots Coffee and Community opened its doors in November 2014.

A group of us had formed a company, which bought the site in order to develop it for Roots to lease. The purchase was funded partly by this private investment and partly by a bank loan. The building cost about £180,000.

The company was responsible for developing the building from a rundown, disused warehouse to a property that would be fit for Roots to lease. The renovation costs were about £60,000.

We managed to keep these costs this low because of the many volunteer hours that went into the work, as well as valuable donations of time by local companies.

After the site had been bought and renovated, we then had to form a separate company to lease the building and run the project.

The Roots company is a social enterprise, which is a not-for-profit, community interest company limited by guarantee. Its set-up costs were met by various grants.

Five of us have formed a management team, which deals with most of the day-to-day running.

Any memorable moments?

It has been a long, challenging, tiring and thrilling journey to reach this point. We had a limited budget from the start, so any work that did not require specialist contractors, we have done ourselves. I have spent many, many hours up a ladder, wielding a paintbrush.

I have also become proficient at filling in grant application forms, and had many exciting moments opening letters telling us another application had been successful.

We invited all of our neighbourhood friends and supporters, our families and many of the contractors and organisations who had helped us, to the opening party.

It was wonderful to see the building finally filled with people, all smiling and drinking our coffee.

I have also been helping the staff in the coffee shop with baking the cakes for the first few weeks, while they all got used to their new jobs.

Seeing my own cakes for sale, and people actually eating them and telling us how nice they were, was a bizarre and exciting feeling.

Do your patients know about your interest in the project?

I do not practise in the same area as the Roots coffee shop, which was a deliberate decision.

If it seemed relevant, I would be happy to talk to patients about Roots. I may end up referring them there if the social prescription project develops in future.

What would you say to GPs thinking of giving this a go?

Working part-time as a GP and having another role taking up the rest of my time this past year has been exhausting but exhilarating.

It is wonderful to look back on all that we have achieved so far. For me, it is all about teamwork and relationships, and I wouldn't be doing any of it without an amazing team who had an amazing vision.

At times I have wondered why on earth we ever started this crazy thing - and now we are stuck with a business to run. That can feel a bit overwhelming sometimes.

But it is amazing to think we had a dream and we have made it a reality. I shouldn't think I would ever do anything like this again, but I can look back now and be glad that we tried, even if it fails at some point in the future.

What's next for you and Roots Coffee and Community?

My role will mainly be in developing the community side of the project. We have a large community hall, which is available for private rental, or for classes, events and community gatherings.

I am also interested in starting up an elderly residents lunch club, and some basic cookery courses in our training kitchen.

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