On March 15, The Salvation Army Cuba Street Café opened its doors to the public for the first time. Serving affordable barista-made coffee on weekdays from 8am through to 1pm, one of the goals of the venture is to provide ‘really well-made coffee down this end of Cuba Street’, explains Captain Daniel Buckingham, mission officer for The Salvation Army Cuba Street.
When Daniel and others met with local business owners in the vicinity, a woman expressed how excited she was about The Salvation Army doing frontline mission out of a café because of the potential for creating an oasis on upper Cuba Street. ‘Those were her words,’ says Daniel, ‘and we really liked that, so the idea of creating an oasis went into the design cues for this space and we’ve been really focused on making it cosy, comfortable and relaxed.’
With 65 percent of permanent residents in that part of Wellington aged 16 to 30 years and the majority being students, ‘cheap coffee, free Wi-Fi, good vibes and a great space for studying’ was all part of the plan. ‘Students are a high-needs community,’ says Daniel, ‘and one of the things we discovered was that a lot of the independent services for students in this part of the city were diminished or shut down because of covid and haven’t been able to reopen. Students are looking for spaces where they can relax, meet friends, study and connect, and we dream of a time when this will be their go-to space.’
Student ministries is a key mission focus for the Cuba Street team moving forward, with full-time Student Ministries Leader Noah Spargo now employed. However, Daniel is careful to explain that the café is not just for students. ‘What we have with this new space is a café frontage that opens onto upper Cuba Street, on a block that has a lot of foot traffic but not a lot of life. So the vision wasn’t so much of a café but of a community space that can be used for all sorts of things. The café just gives us an anchor for creating a bit of life up this end of Cuba Street and building connections with the community. We don’t see this as a café in our church, but rather we have a church in our community space. We want The Salvation Army in the inner city to reflect and resonate with the people who live and work here—where we adapt to them and meet them where they are at. We want to destroy the wall between what’s church and what’s a community programme.’
Daniel believes that the root of good evangelism is relationships. ‘Connecting organically is important. This space provides us with the opportunity to connect naturally and have faith conversations when they arise. We want to be strongly connected relationally to the Cuba Street community.’
Staffed by Emily Bray, with a team of volunteers in support for the 8am to 9am busy period, the café stocks Hamodava products, meaning Community Ministries benefits directly. Furthermore, Central Divisional Headquarters and Territorial Headquarters staff receive a discount.
‘With He Waka Eka Noa—All of Us Together—being a huge focus, the café offers a space to live that out: an opportunity for cohesion, a space for everybody in the same building to connect, and that’s got to be a good thing,’ says Daniel.