Wednesday 25 November 2015

Coffee for Change, Please!

The Big Issue Foundation has, I think we can all agree, done incredible work to help homeless people across the country. The important thing for me is that it's not just about charity or handouts. The point of The Big Issue is to give people that have fallen on hard times a level of dignity, and a handhold from which they can haul themselves back onto their feet.

But there's one problem. Where do you go when you're tired of selling the magazine on street corners? What if salesmanship isn't your forte? As a confirmed introvert, I know that I'd struggle in an environment where I have to be outgoing and loud to make a sale. How else can you contribute?

The latest initiative from Big Issue founder John Bird, along with social entrepreneur Cemal Ezel, answers that question neatly while exploiting our weakness for a nice cup of coffee in the morning. Change Please opened its first coffee cart in London this week, employing ex-homeless people as baristas.

Ezel has form in this area–he runs the Old Spike Roastery in Peckham, which exclusively employs homeless referrals. The plan is to aggressively expand the carts and the employment rate, with the London operation alone expected to hire 100 new people in the first year. The training they recieve will mean that they can move on to other chains. With more than 3000 new coffee shops expected to open in the UK in the next twelve months, that means they're involved in a growth industry with plenty of opportunity. Talk about a step up.

Ezel has smartly keyed into a part of the commercial sector that offers good returns quickly, and understands that pride in work and quality of the end product go hand in hand. He says:

“Coffee is very commercial, it is very communal and it is more and more part of people’s daily habits. This is about getting people off the streets and into housing.”

Change Please coffee is sourced from beans coming from Rwanda, Tanzania and Columbia. It's important to get that blend right. If the coffee isn't good, people won't come. But there's a great deal of confidence in the future of the brand, with key sites locked in and plans for carts in the atriums of big businesses like Barclays Bank. With expansion to cities like Bristol, Manchester and Edinburgh in the pipeline, it looks likely that we'll all have the chance to try the brew for ourselves too.

Baristas will be getting the Living Wage of £9.15 an hour (£8.75 outside London), so you could argue that Change Please staff will be getting a better deal than many of their compatriots working in rival coffee chains. That's no reason for jealousy–it's an impetus for coffee houses across the country to up their game and pay their staff fairly.

Our View: this is a clever and inspiring way to get homeless people back on the right track. Mine's an Americano.

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