How many of you had a cup of coffee this morning? How many of you bought the latest copy of the Big Issue? Well, how about something that rolls them both into one? What if simply buying your daily Flat White, Cappuccino or Espresso could support the homeless, or the young person who doesn't know where to start, or the ex-offender coming out of prison?
London based social enterprise We Walk the Line fuses artisanal independent coffee with a desire to change the world for the better. We employ people who need a break; empowering them with business and barista skills and coaching them on the job to be their own boss. All the profits from the coffee we sell go towards setting them up with their own coffee stall when they are ready.
We started WWTL because for years, I had been working with vulnerable people; the homeless, ex-offenders and disadvantaged young people dropping out of college. My job was to ask them ‘what do you want to do’, to which there was only ever one answer - get a job. Many of these people were the brightest and perhaps the cheekiest people I've ever worked with, and here I was channeling them into dead end jobs. What they needed was a chance to be their own boss, but the opportunities were not there. It bugged me for years until the idea of a holistic, intermediate supported model to self-employment came to my co-founder Kieron Tilley and I over a coffee (naturally) in the British Library in early 2013.
The We Walk the Line model is deceptively simple.
We provide employment and on the job mentoring and assistance to provide a supported route into self-employment. The beneficiaries of We Walk the Line learn to run their own coffee business whilst we provide coaching in enterprise and business skills. When they are ready to move on, profits are reinvested to set them up in their own coffee business as part of a social franchise. Being a franchisee, they benefit from ongoing support in accounting, bulk buying and marketing.
We believe there is huge potential in this model and a number of high profile companies are now choosing coffee with a conscience. When Ben and Jerry's Ice Cream wanted coffee for their European Final - Jerry asked us. When Lloyds Bank wanted to buy social for their Entrepreneur of the Year Awards ceremony - we got the call. When Whistles Launched their menswear line earlier this summer - we were there to provide a little social uplift with every latte.
In August 2014, we employed a former rough sleeper as our first member of staff. He makes a great Flat White and worked at the Ben and Jerry's, Lloyds Bank and Spin London events. We have also supported 60 young people at Tower Hamlets College to improve their knowledge of social enterprise and developed the employability skills of the students at the House of St Barnabas Employment Academy.
And, We Walk the Line has just been announced as one of the five finalists in this year's Ben and Jerry's - Ashoka Join Our Core social enterprise competition.
If you want to get involved in We Walk the Line, there are three ways you can help people who need a break to be their own boss.
1) Buy our coffee from our pop up outlets at Chrisp Street and Dalston Roof Park
2) Buy social and ask us to provide the coffee for your next event or product launch
3) Back our Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign (launching on 18 May) so we can pilot our Theory of Change model in Spring 2015
Small businesses are the life and soul of communities but with frequent rent hikes and the expansion of chain brands, they often struggle to survive. The East End Trades Guild is working to change their fate.
Mat Corbett and Kieron Tilley FRSA are using the simple of act of buying and selling coffee to help marginalised people get back on their feet and become tomorrow's entrepreneurs.