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Husband and wife Adam and Tracey Gregory hope the venture in Southampton will help disabled chidlren
IT was The Hairy Bikers who gave him the idea.
One of the celebrity cookery programmes featured a community cafe and Adam Gregory wondered whether he could recreate it in Southampton.
With his wife of 30 years Tracey, Adam had already founded the charity U Support which gives children with life-limiting conditions, disabilities and disadvantages the chance to attend sporting and cultural events.
But with demand increasing across the region, the couple began struggling to fundraise – and were left buying tickets themselves.
However seeing the idea on TV, Adam realised a cafe where profits go directly to their charity could be the answer.
And just six months later the ribbon was cut on ChariTeas, a 130-seat tea room in The Marlands shopping centre.
Adam, said: “It was seeing how well the community cafe worked in the Hairy Bikers episode that gave me the idea.
“You can’t keep going to people and keep asking for support because there will come a day people just can’t keep giving, but people are going to still buy a cup of tea, coffee, a slice of cake so it makes sense if that money can help children.
“Everyone told me you can’t do that, you’re mad, but if you think about it, we’re a nation of tea drinkers. Everybody is into nostalgia.
“I thought if we could do something where you walk in and it’s like Downton Abbey or The Paradise and had the emotional pull of being able to help disabled children, it’s something a bit different.
“If we could put people before profit, I thought we could make a massive difference and I think that’s what we’ve achieved.”
The tea rooms are situated on the ground floor of The Marlands next to the charity’s offices.
Its decor includes traditional wallpaper, linen tablecloths and nostalgic items dotted around the interior including an old gramophone.
It appears like any other cafe selling a range of speciality teas, cakes, scones and lunches.
But it’s far from ordinary.
The sign in the entrance reminding customers that each cup of tea, coffee, slice of cake or home-made sandwich raises money for U Support gives it away.
And taking pride of place behind the counter is the Olympic torch and the Paralympics torch, donated to the couple for their work.
However what isn’t so obvious is that transforming the area has been a labour of love from the community.
Adam explained when the couple first took on the boarded-up former cafe, the ceiling had collapsed in places, fittings had fallen off the wall, the rooms were thick with grime and grease – and switching on the power to an old freezer even caused a fire.
But in just six months people in the community all came together to transform it into an old fashioned tea rooms.
Businesses donated everything from the coffee machine to fridges while people gave up their time to source furniture and fittings from auction sites before spending hours renovating them.
Adam, said: “We couldn’t have done it without the support of the community.
“There is a lot of love going around.”
“When they say blood, sweat and tears it was all of those things but we’re through the other side now.”
Despite the long hours, Adam and Tracey don’t need to look far for the source of their inspiration – it’s the children they support.
The charity was founded in 2003 when Adam, who is registered disabled, was shocked to see there were no disabled chil dren at the FA Cup final when Saints played Arsenal.
From that moment he was adamant to make matches more accessible. Adam and Tracey began buying a handful of season tickets to take disabled children to games at Southampton Football Club.
But now the pair, who have been invited to receptions at the House of Lords and Downing Street for their work, supply 4000 tickets to children every year and the charity has the Southampton-born Right Reverend Lord Bishop of Exeter Dr Michael Langrish as its patron.
The children go to football matches, Hampshire cricket matches, The Mayflower theatre and pop concerts where youngsters have met their idols JLS, Olly Murs and Take That. And during the World Cup 2010, under the name U Support Africa the charity supported children in South Africa. For Adam it’s clear that seeing the young children’s faces light up when they enjoy opportunities the charity provides makes it worthwhile. There was the time a young girl with a brain tumour couldn’t stop dancing to her favourite pop star and the time the charity arranged for a bed to be taken into The Mayflower theatre so a little girl, who was unable to sit up could enjoy a full-scale theatrical production.
Adam, said: “The children make all the work worth it. It’s incredible when you see the kids, they light up and I hope people coming into the tea rooms will want to be part of that. If it means we can send more children to events that makes us very happy.”
The couple now dream of making the tea rooms a community hub and attracting the cruise liner visitors to enjoy the British bygone days of their charity tea rooms. They also hope to employ people who are looking to get back into work.
Adam, said: “My dad said to me before he passed away if you do good it keeps coming back to you tenfold so that’s what we’ll keep doing and hopefully we’ll get to where we want to get to.”
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