Cambridge: how a café is helping people to recover from substance misuse

The Edge Café in Cambridge provides support to people recovering from substance misuse and those with mental health problems by running recovery groups and providing opportunities for volunteering.

The Edge Café in Cambridge provides support to people recovering from substance misuse and those with mental health problems by running recovery groups and providing opportunities for volunteering.

Alongside the café, there is a food hub and range of events organised. The site is also used to run smoking cessation and weight management clinics.

The recovery support

The Edge Café social enterprise was created five years ago. It is housed in some old NHS buildings and is situated at the end of a high street close to the centre of Cambridge.

The idea was to create a community venture that would help those in recovery from drug and alcohol problems. There is a recovery hub manager, Gail Sawyer, whose post is part-funded through the Cambridge County Council-commissioned substance misuse service Change Grow Live.

She oversees a range of groups and workshops. There are peer support groups that run three times a week, alongside a creative writing recovery group and yoga and Tai Chi classes. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous run their 12-step fellowship meetings there too and there is also a carers support group, a men’s group, women’s group and a group supporting survivors of domestic violence.

Ms Sawyer said:

We get a lot of referrals from the substance misuse service. When people come to the end of treatment they are passed on to us to help them maintain their recovery. Although we do get referrals through other routes to. Some people don’t want to go to treatment, but use the recovery groups to help them.

Before the pandemic the support groups were regularly getting 15 to 20 people attending and then during the pandemic it moved to an online model and the numbers grew even higher. The groups are now back to meeting in person. “We have not got the numbers up to what they were before, but I am sure we will in time. People are still getting used to meeting back in-person,” added Ms Sawyer.

The volunteering offer

But the strength of The Edge Café is that it can provide people in recovery opportunities to volunteer and build their skills. There are a range of roles. Some involving running the support groups, while others will work in the café or for the food hub, which is run in partnership with a number of food poverty charities. There are three members of staff which run this side of the service.

Alongside these services, the café is also looking to host a series of social events for the wide community, including open mic events and tea dances. 

Ms Sawyer said:

The volunteering provides people with a chance to develop their skills and gain work experience to use as a stepping stone into paid employment. Around 20 to 25 per cent of our volunteers go into paid employment, but we do have some volunteers who stay with us for a long time.  

“We have one who has been with us from the start and some of our volunteers are not people who have been through treatment – they are just local people who want to give something back.

“Some volunteers have particular skills that we can use to set up new groups. The creative writing group was set up by a volunteer as were the yoga classes. And currently we have a hairdresser who is going to be providing free haircuts once a month and another who is doing a quilt-making class.”

‘The Edge saved me’

Alongside the volunteering opportunities, there is a weekly computer skills group and support with job applications and CV writing.

“We are there to be a springboard back into normal life,” said Ms Sawyer. 

Once treatment finishes people can find themselves a little lost and there is always a risk of a relapse. The support we provide is aimed at trying to make sure that does not happen. It is about being open for everybody and giving them somewhere they belong and feel part of a community.

One of those who has been helped is Peter (not his real name), who went on to become a peer mentor and now even gives talks at colleges and universities.

Peter said:

The support I have received has been truly amazing. It has given me confidence when my life was in tatters and I was at my lowest. It gave me trust when everyone else was treating me like a creature. I was literally on the edge and The Edge saved me.

Contact details 

Gail Sawyer 
Recover Hub Manager 
The Edge Café