The idea behind The Big Issue is a simple one: give homeless people the chance to sell a great magazine, earn a legitimate income and turn their lives around. What if selling a great coffee could do the same thing? A groundbreaking new brand called Change Please is based on that very principle: tackling homelessness through the power of a popular product sold on the streets.
The venture – a partnership between Old Spike Roastery and The Big Issue – has seen a group of homeless people trained as baristas so they can sell fresh coffee from mobile carts on the high street.
Launching this week at eight locations in central London, the coffee carts will give Big Issue vendors another fantastic outlet to move forward in their working lives.
Change Please is the brainchild of Cemal Ezel, co-founder of the Old Spike Roastery, a café and coffee roastery run as a social enterprise in Peckham Rye, south London. The name for the new project came to Cemal when he went to a Banksy exhibition and saw a painting that read: Keep your coins, I want change.
“It’s all really exciting,” he says. “We were interested in supporting the onward journey The Big Issue already provides by creating new opportunities for the vendors. We’ve been looking for people ready to make the most of this kind of training, and I think we’ve found a great team.”
It’s a great opportunity – really beautiful. I was really happy to get involved
Pascal Pompet, 44, is one of seven new baristas in the capital. He has been homeless for a long time. Pascal first came to London 15 years ago, having split from his wife in France. He worked as a cleaner and security guard but lost his job when he went to prison. Wrongly accused, Pascal was acquitted after three months but found no employers would take him on.
Sleeping on night buses, Pascal picked himself back up through The Big Issue, selling the magazine at Oxford Circus to earn enough to get by. He is staying on a friend’s sofa now but hopes the new job as a barista will lead to a settled home and a brighter future.
“It’s a great opportunity – really beautiful,” he says. “I was really happy to get involved in the training and give it a go. It hasn’t taken too long to pick up the machinery and all the blends. I’m looking forward to serving this coffee to the public now. I’m a coffee drinker myself, and I know how good it tastes. I just hope the customers are as excited about it as we are.”
Four of the Change Please baristas – Pascal, Lucy, Rik and Marion – have been working selling The Big Issue. Another three homeless recruits received basic money management training with The Big Issue, referred on by Crisis and Southwark Council. As full-time baristas, all seven will be paid the London living wage.
Work can be such a positive thing when people are trying to get back on their feet
Everyone involved hopes that if the brand is a success – Change Please coffee beans will also be available to customers online – the pop-up carts can expand to other cities and provide work for 20 to 30 new trainees a year. Several big companies are keen to provide job opportunities when the current recruits have completed six months’ training.
And that’s not all. Cemal says his social enterprise is now working with each barista to help them find stable accommodation, as well as setting up fast-track bank accounts for them. “We’re very keen to get people in housing when they start with us, and support them in any way that they need,” he explains. “We really want to make sure this work makes a lasting difference in their lives because as a group they are trying to take big steps forward.”
Peter Bird, The Big Issue’s head of magazine distribution, is just as enthusiastic. “We can be working with more than a thousand people at any one time,” he explains. “For this particular group, it was the right chance for them to get some further training and a chance to move on in their working life. Work can be such a positive thing when people are trying to get back on their feet, and we think this is another great way of supporting people into new opportunities.”
So what does the life-changing coffee taste like? In short, it’s fantastic. But don’t take our word for it: give it try and judge for yourself. Like The Big Issue magazine, the coffee has to compete in a crowded marketplace, and top quality is essential.
“The social element is important but you always have to provide a first-class product,” says Cemal. “That’s absolutely essential.”