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Change Please: Coffee with a conscience

Peckham’s Old Spike Roastery and The Big Issue have partnered to create a new coffee brand with a unique concept and a community focus.

London based coffee shop and social enterprise, Old Spike Roastery , have recently joined forces with The Big Issue to create their new coffee brand, Change Please .

Founded by Richard Robinson and Cemal Ezel, Old Spike started earlier this year in a disused pet shop in Peckham that had stood empty since 1980.

The pair brought a new lease of life to the dilapidated building through stripping the walls back to the bare brick and transforming it into the stylish and minimalist coffee shop it is today.

Old Spike Roastery

The business was inspired by Cemal’s travels in Vietnam, where he admits he experienced ‘a mid-life crisis’. He told

‘I did something called the rocking chair test. I looked back at my life as if I was 90 in a rocking chair – thinking about what I had achieved, what I’d done and who I was as I person’

‘If I was going to carry on the same way it would be pretty soulless and empty’

On his travels he discovered a unique initiative in a little town called Hoi An - a silent tea house, run by deaf and mute ladies. Upon leaving the tea house, Cemal decided there and then that he wanted to do the same thing but in Clapham.

However, after considering that he ‘doesn’t really like tea’ and ‘doesn’t like Clapham’, he reassessed his vision. Cemal finally decided to start a coffee shop with a similar social element – providing jobs and housing for homeless people in Peckham.

Homelessness is a rapidly growing problem in the UK. The number of people sleeping on the streets has more than doubled in the last 5 years and approximately 280,000 people are approaching the local authorities for assistance every year, according to Crisis.

Cemal told us: ‘Every day I used to see a big issue seller called Lucy: she’s Romanian, she’s 55 years old and I just got a really wonderful feeling from her … I knew Lucy was the first person I wanted to employ’.

The choice to open a coffee shop and roastery rather than just a conventional coffee shop was influenced by the New York trend of in-house roasting - just another element that makes their small business stand out in an oversaturated marketplace.

Small business and social enterprise

The concept behind social enterprises is to promote wellbeing through reinvesting the profits back into projects that help the local community and the environment.

Cemal told us that the shop operates ‘…firstly as a social enterprise and secondly as a business’ and that they ‘invest all of the profits back into the purchase of the beans’.

‘Some charities rely on grants and donations, but we are able to survive and be sustainable based on tradeable income’.

However, he is also keen to point out that they don’t compromise on the quality of their coffee and that business and social enterprise go hand in hand – without a quality product there would be less business and it would minimize the social good.

Catering to an ever growing consumer demand, the UK’s takeaway coffee market is set to be worth £8 billion in the next year and the average coffee drinker in London consumes more than two cups on the go every day, according to the Mintel Coffee report 2014.

And in today’s society, people are increasingly coffee-conscious, giving more thought to the origins and ethics behind what’s in the cup.

With the growing number of coffee connoisseurs, coffee culture is on the rise (it’s even got its own movement) and the concept behind Old Spike adheres to the third wave of coffee culture.

Change Please

On November the 23rd Old Spike Roastery launched Change Please, a new project in partnership with The Big Issue.

Set up exclusively to help local homeless people in the community, their mission is to provide ‘expert training, housing and a job that will hopefully be a stepping stone to long term employment’.

Sadly, The Big Issue’s circulation has plummeted by over half in recent years due to a lack of demand in a digital age. However, the demand for speciality coffee ‘is still through the roof’ – so they decided to use the magazine’s business model and 25 years’ worth of experience to translate it to a more saleable product.

John Bird, founder The Big Issue says:

“Change Please is the fresh approach now required to help the homeless. Selling the Big Issue works well to provide people currently living on the streets with a way to help themselves work towards a better life, but there is a gap between that segment of homelessness and securing a regular job that needed a solution; Change Please provides that and will hopefully be the leg up that people need to work their way back in to society.”

The initiative will provide coffee trucks across London, serving ethically sourced, speciality brews from Tanzania, Rwanda and Columbia at £2.50 a cup.

Starting with 12 workers and a ‘handful of trucks’, Change Please aims to have 100 trucks by next year.

The vendors are provided with full barista training and paid the London Living Wage of £9.25 per hour. With the prospect of full-time work in other established coffee chains within 6 months, the initiative hopes to get approximately 200 people off the streets every year.

The not-for-profit organization will also underwrite tenancies for the workers who would struggle to persuade landlords to rent to them.

When we asked Cemal why he loves his business he told us that he ‘can’t imagine doing anything else’ and it’s ‘that self-fulfilment, that connection to the business and to the community and to your staff, alongside the social good and the respect to the product’ that make his business a worthwhile and fulfilling endeavour.

The scheme shows that entrepreneurship really can change lives and that ‘if we can get a small proportion of coffee drinkers to simply change where they buy their coffee, we really could change the world.’

Change please is set to expand to other cities such as Bristol, Manchester, Nottingham, Edinburgh and Glasgow – so keep an eye out for the trucks!

As part of the Small Business Saturday initiative, we filmed Cemal among other small business owners for their latest video 'The Reason'.

If you enjoyed this article, keep an eye on our You Tube channel or sign up for a *free* account to receive the latest small business advice, features, videos and listings directly to your inbox!

Melanie Luff

About the author

Mel wrote for all titles in the Dynamis stable including, and as well as other global industry publications.


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