Whether we walk on by, drop some change into a cup or donate our lunch, homelessness exists. It often hides in plain sight, but it’s still there.
According to the Independent, the number of homeless people in the UK stands at an all time high. The official numbers tell us that “on any given night in autumn 2017, 4,751 people were sleeping rough”. This figure has more than doubled since 2010.
Any initiative that helps get people off the streets is to be celebrated. One that gets people off the streets whilst providing new skills and a job? Even better!
Change Please are doing just that. They produce great coffee and they’re helping to change lives.
They’re turning our love of coffee into a solution for homelessness. They provide homeless people with the skills and tools they need to run their own coffee cart. This includes barista training and a London living wage as well as support with housing, setting up a bank account and help with mental health problems.
What Makes Someone Feeling Bad About Homelessness Do Something About It?
According to Change Please, the average Londoner buys two coffees a day. This is reflected across the country, with 21,000 coffee shops predicted in the UK by 2020. This means 100,000 jobs in an industry that is currently under skilled. Making fresh coffee takes skill, passion and essentially, the right training.
But all this coffee being sold, and jobs being created, are no use to someone who doesn’t have the skills or the knowledge to get trained and get a job. Once someone is caught in the web of being without a fixed address, a job, food and money, it becomes increasingly difficult to get out of it.
The ah-ha! moment for Change Please was when founder Cemal Ezel was on a work trip far away from London, in Vietnam. He paid a visit to a silent tea house there, a social enterprise run by women who are deaf and mute. These women and their passion for their trade struck a chord in Cemal. On seeing how homelessness was becoming more of an issue on his return to London, he was inspired to take action.
Why not use our willingness to spend money on good coffee, to help end homelessness, and in turn help plug the barista skills gap?
Why not indeed. Change Please started with one coffee cart in November 2015 in Covent Garden in London. They now have carts dotted around the capital and are immensely proud to have coffee bars within the iconic Shard building and the head offices of media behemoth, Time Inc.
Good Coffee, Doing Good
I spoke to Laurence Higgens, Director of Impact and Fundraising at Change Please. He’s been with them from the start, initially driving the carts to their locations, working a full day getting the enterprise off the ground and then packing the carts up again in the evening.
His passion for this business is plain to see; not once did Laurence think his 15 hour days weren’t worth it.
Change Please is a social enterprise, “staffed by the homeless, to help the homeless”, Laurence explained. Funding comes in part from the Big Issue. Change Please “empower the homeless community” by training them to be baristas.
If someone is interested in being trained, charities helping the homeless, including Centrepoint and Shelter will refer them to Change Please. Laurence says they’re always keen to meet new people with a passion for coffee who would like to be involved in the catering and hospitality industry.
Changing Lives, One Coffee at a Time
Change Please think it’s vital to pay their baristas the London Living Wage. Laurence told me this has two positive effects. It proves that paying the Living Wage can work in the hospitality and catering industry. And it provides an adequate income with which people can rebuild their lives.
As well as new skills, a job and a coffee cart, employees are given valuable help with housing. Change Please barista Liam Mulligan has had his life turned around. He says, “not only is it helping with my housing, it’s getting me back into society. It’s a stepping stone out of the darkness.”
The Big Issue Isn’t Just About Selling the Magazine
The founder of the Big Issue, John Bird, wanted to get involved with Change Please “because not everybody wants to be a Big Issue vendor”. It seems he’s onto something because, as Laurence told me, “the support [from the Big Issue] has always been incredible. But with so many people interested in getting involved, it was a little overwhelming in the early days”.
Change Please sold 1,000 coffees from their first coffee cart in their first week. And like they say themselves, “good coffee doesn’t just taste good, it does good too”.
Barista, Jattinder Budwal, says that some people look on the homeless as lowlives, and dirty. But since being trained and running his own coffee cart, he’s “never met such genuine, caring, appreciative people”.
To me, that’s even more warming than a cappuccino on a chilly morning. Besides, aren’t we all only ‘two pay packets away’ from being on the streets?
The fact that homeless people get “lost in the system” spurred founder Cemal on to make a difference. “If we can give them the opportunity, give them a job, then we’re going some way to reducing homelessness” he says on their website.
A Brilliant Example of How Social Good Can Create Jobs
The more coffee sold by Change Please, the more coffee carts they can buy. The more carts, the more people they help off the streets. Within their first four months, they sold 78,000 cups of coffee. Each one helping to fund more training, and more support.
Change Please say this is only the beginning. Their self-sustaining business model can be scaled up nationally and internationally, there’s a BBC documentary in the making and Sainsbury’s now stock Change Please beans and ground coffee.
And as Cemal says, if you want to change the world, all you have to do is change where you buy your coffee. So if you’re in London, and you fancy a coffee, you know what to do…