Friendly café where talk is cheap – in fact it’s free

Good to talk - Cormac Duffy and Steve Mayers are on a mission to get people talking to each other and hear others points of view

By Brigid Benson

ONE of the best new cafes in town doesn’t sell coffee, tea, or in fact anything else, rather it extends a free warm welcome to anyone who feels like meeting, connect and conversing with other people, from all walks of life.

Liverpool’s Café Psychologique meets monthly between 6.30-8.30pm in the basement of The Casa on Hope Street in the city centre. While there’s refreshments available from the Casa bar upstairs, the purpose of the Café is to create a relaxed place where people can come together for great conversation.

The theme of the evening’s discussion is proposed ahead of each meeting and over two hours a free ranging conversation travels in many directions. Everyone is encouraged to express their opinions and explore different points of view, facilitated by Cormac Duffy, a friendly Irishman who has chosen to make Liverpool his home. Recent café discussions have explored the themes of how people come together in turbulent times, and our relationship with food.

I met with Cormac, and Steve Mayers, who established the Liverpool branch.

Steve said: “Café Psychologique was founded by Chris Powell in 2011, and there are Cafes across the country in Manchester, Leeds, Wolverhampton, Bournemouth, Brighton and now Liverpool. The café is a response to the need for real conversation and connection. Social media like FaceBook serves many purposes but it does not provide a safe place for real conversation and connection.

“It is often quite the opposite of that. There seems to be an illusion of increased connectivity yet a powerful sense of decreased connectivity is growing. People can feel more and more alone through some aspects of social media whereas the café presents an opportunity to have face-to-face meaningful dialogue. We invite everyone to think about things that may be challenging to them, and to explore things from a different perspective.”

Cormac added: “We’re not looking for outcomes! The conversation goes where it flows. The Café provides a place for people with different life experiences to engage with each other, though there is no pressure to speak. No-one is ever put on the spot.”

Both Cormac and Steve find one of the most rewarding aspects of the meetings the excitement of not knowing who is going to be there and what participants will share during the meeting. Sometimes it takes people a while before they chose to speak, and that’s OK. Cormac and Steve respect that, though they feel everyone gets more out of the experience ultimately when they do contribute because they are engaged more fully in the dialogue.

‘All points of view are valid’ Cormac explains. “That’s one of the few house rules. Participants might regard someone else’s opinion as wrong and disagree with it but the house rule is that as a group we do not dismiss another person’s opinion or experience.”

Silence also plays an important part in the café. “Occasional silence is welcome’ says Cormac ‘because when the group falls silent it is an opportunity to reflect on what has been said and what someone might feel they want to say.”

While Cormac and Steve both facilitate the conversation, they stress that they do not come to the café as experts; they seek to participate genuinely too. “The conversation creates so many sparks of interaction’” according to Steven “It’s wonderful to meet people you might not otherwise come into contact with through the rest of your life. I am continually surprised and excited by the experiences people bring to the café, it all promotes deeper understanding and connection.”

Looking to the future, Cormac is keenly aware of Liverpool’s strong appreciation of social values and justice and activism. He feels the Café provides a place for conversation around that. He wants the café to be a monthly fixture in the social fabric of the community and a new steering group will reflect that.

Café Psychologique meets between 6.30-8.30 on the last Wednesday of every month in the basement of The Casa on Hope Street