Established in 2016, Cafe Lingo has been supporting people who’ve moved to the Isle of Man from all over the world.

Roughly 500 people from more than 48 different countries.

While known as a language group who deliver free weekly lessons for those whose first language is not English, it’s much more than that.

Most of us won’t know the feeling of moving away from our home country, whether that be due to conflict, financial troubles or work, but it’s unimaginably a daunting experience.

And Karen and Tim Norton recognised this and wanted to help those arriving on Manx shores, but not just with English for beginners. Operating out of Promenade Methodist Church in Douglas, the charitable organisation aims to offer friendship, information about island life, broadcast the Manx community and act as a signpost service.

Now ready to step back after almost eight years, husband and wife Tim and Karen are searching for someone to take the Douglas language group forward.

Karen is the co-ordinating volunteer, the role they’re looking to fill, while Tim does plenty of work behind the scenes as the lead support.

The pair explained to us that while it is a difficult decision to step away, they both believe it’s the right time, but emphasised the importance of the community group continuing to help people.

When asked if it will be tough to say goodbye, Karen said: ‘In some ways, definitely.

‘We’ve really enjoyed doing it. And it’s been very enriching, really, for us, as well as hopefully for people who’ve come along to it.

‘It’s become quite a big part of our lives.

‘But we do actually feel now is the time that we should be stepping away from it and giving somebody else a chance to step in, and put their stamp on it and bring their experiences and their way of doing things to it. So yes, yes and no, the time’s right but we will miss it.’

Seeing and welcoming so many people to Cafe Lingo means it’s obviously difficult for Karen to give one exact highlight of the near eight years, but the support offered to Ukrainians when the Russia-Ukraine war broke out, and the support they’re still offering now as the conflict continues, are memories that the pair won’t be forgetting in a hurry.

The language service saw a surge in demand thanks to those who had arrived to the island from Ukraine, and Karen explained how incredible it was to be a part of that from the start, despite having problems of their own.

She said: ‘There’s a lot of individual highlights but that was the big one really.

‘When the Russia-Ukraine war started, we were in the middle of a sort of a difficult health matter going on within our family, and it was actually tempting to step back. But when we saw there was a lot of Ukrainians coming over, we realised that there was something Cafe Lingo could do because we were a group that was already set up to help and support people in a friendly way.

‘Obviously the Isle of Man government responded, they set up the Ukraine support scheme who are fantastic, but we were a sort of support group ourselves and we worked on various levels, if you like, we have lots of layers, and had a good group of volunteers on hand along with an existing group of students.

Students have told us they tend to regard Cafe Lingo as their Manx family, and we thought this is actually something that would be good to offer Ukrainians.’

After deciding to offer their services to Ukrainians coming to the island, Karen and Tim saw around 100 people from the Eastern European country come to their doors, and a lot of them still do now.

Karen continued: ‘A lot of them are now as integrated as you possibly could be hoping to be on the island and some work on a Saturday morning or you don’t get to see them much, but when they can come in, they do.

‘And we still have our regulars from Ukraine too, and I think there are two occasions that are the most memorable for me.

‘One was the very first time we invited them through their doors, we got together with the charity, the One World Centre who are based in the same building [Promenade Church, Douglas].

They provided the brunch and we provided the sort of entertainment, a spoken welcome, and the opportunity for them to meet each other to some extent, and to meet the people living here and established here already.’

Upon the Ukrainians arriving at the doors of the church, it was immediately known that for some the language barrier would be an early stumbling block, whereas others not so much. Karen explained that a lot of them arrived with different needs, but her, Tim and the rest of the volunteers were happy to help where possible.

‘Some of them were professional people with a very high standard English, others had absolutely no English’, she said. ‘It was a special moment inviting them all in, and it couldn’t have happened without the help of One World Centre for feeding them.

‘After that we gave them an opportunity to take clothing with them. We were given donations of clothing, because a lot of them had literally packed a single bag very quickly and left Ukraine in a state of really deep shock.

‘They were very traumatised.

‘And so to offer them all of that right at the start, it just felt special.

‘But then we kept on doing what we could to support them as much as possible. We realised that although within our family there was a shock going on, it was nothing in comparison with the shock that they were experiencing.’

Karen recalled several memorable moments from her and Tim’s experience running the group, and said ‘while appreciation is lovely, it’s not why we do it’.

And while some would be slowing down or coasting towards retirement at Easter, Karen and Tim are still working as hard as ever.

They’re currently running a knit blankets for Ukraine initiative throughout the winter.

They’re appealing for any support or materials before January 20, which can be dropped off at either their base at Promenade Church or Davison’s Ice Cream parlour in Peel.

The search for the next co-ordinating volunteer continues for Karen and Tim, who want to see Cafe Lingo continue to help and thrive.

l Anyone interested in the role should email [email protected] by 5pm on Friday, January 26.