Old Spike Roastery is tiny space. Exposed brickwork and plywood walls hold makeshift shelves filled with bags of coffee beans. While two benches running along its interior hold the all-important coffee machines help open it all up.
“The great thing about the shop is that it has no bar, making it super open,” Johnny Gagel, head barista says. “Instead of the coffee machine being turned away from people it's turned in front of them so they can see what's going on. It's more welcoming.”
While it functions much like any other business, the difference with Old Spike is that profit is reinvested in the local community. In this case, by employing homeless people through a unique scheme and offering a viable way for them to enter safe and secure work.
Entrepreneur Cemal Ezel quit his job in the city to co-found the business three years ago, and together he and Johnny recruit with the help of other homeless charities, including Crisis and The House of St. Barnabas. Those who are recruited are paid the London Living Wage, trained as baristas, and given help with housing, bank accounts, and therapy – if they want it.
The whole enterprise is steadily growing, and includes a network of coffee carts across London called Change Please – supported by another homeless initiative, The Big Issue – and staffed in much the same way. They’ve also moved into wholesale, selling three of their blends in national supermarkets across the UK.
One of the people supported by Old Spike is Thomas Noble, whose story features in the film above. Nearly three years after finding himself living on the streets without any possessions, with the help of Old Spike, Thomas now has access to counselling and physio through the NHS.
He's no longer on benefits and is working full time. His job means he has the autonomy to live alone, to pay his own rent, and to choose how he wants to live his life. “I never would have imagined in a million years that I would be in this place,” he says.
Old Spike does not expect repayment on the training and Thomas is free to move to another job at any time. But for the moment, it's unlikely he will: “In many ways it doesn't feel like you're at a job,” he says. “It just feels like you're handing coffee out to your friends.”
“One guy comes in at the same time every day, orders the same thing, sits for two hours and we talk,” Thomas says, “it’s more than a coffee shop – we’re a community.”
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