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University of Essex campus: Supporting homeless people into work

Supporting the community starts very close to home for us at WillisPalmer. We are based on the University of Essex campus which runs the initiative to Change Please, a non-profit social enterprise that uses funds made from the sale of “life-changing” coffee to support people experiencing homelessness.

Change Please states that “every cup you buy — helps change someone’s life for the better. Where 100% of our profits, go into giving people experiencing homelessness, a living wage job, housing, training, onwards opportunities — and a fresh shot at a life.”

The University of Essex was introduced to the initiative by the commercial coffee equipment specialist Liquidline and the university went on to launch the sustainable coffee solution at its Zest Fresh café at its Colchester campus.

Change Please’s model aims to tackle homelessness by retraining people as baristas, then providing living-wage employment, as well as support with housing, mental health and finance.

  • 100% of profits go towards supporting homeless people
  • The initiative operates in 8 countries
  • 500 trainees have become baristas following their training
  • The initiative aims to train 1,000 people in 2022
  • 5,000 nights of accommodation have been provided through the initiative
  • £75,000 has been spent in housing support for people experiencing homelessness
  • £2.5m has been raised through grants and donations to help fight homelessness.

Furthermore, over 85% of trainees go on to further employment.

Trainees carry out accredited training at the Speciality Coffee Association centre. The training covers every aspect of coffee making, from green beans and roasting through to latte art and customer service. The aim of the training is to equip the trainees with the skills and experience they need to start a new career and have a secure place to live.

At the same time, the enterprise focuses on the trainee’s wider needs. A secure income means  that trainees can be helped to improve their living circumstances and the enterprise also assists with any therapy needs. The trainees are also supported to fill in paper-work and taught how to manage their finances.

Liquidline director Gavin Pooley said: “The University of Essex is such a forward-facing and pioneering institution, so we approached them with the Change Please offering very early on. They were one of our first customers to switch their coffee to Change Please and we hope many will follow their example in 2022.”

Change Please was UK social enterprise of the year winner in 2021.

A little further afield in Chelmsford, the sandwich chain Pret a Manger is also working hard to tackle hunger, poverty and homelessness through The Pret Foundation.

“We use our global reach to make a difference to the lives of people affected by homelessness, hunger and poverty. We make sure our surplus food reaches people who need it, offer financial support to charities and help to break the cycle of homelessness by providing training and employment opportunities at Pret,” said a statement from the chain.

Pret a Manger tries to minimise waste from their shops. However, any surplus food is taken to shelters for people who need it most, given it may be their only meal of the day.

The statement from Pret says: “We do it because it’s the right thing to do.”

In addition, the chain has a Rising Stars programme to provide people with an opportunity which is central to The Pret Foundation’s mission.

“People with a criminal record or without an address find it extra hard to break the cycle of homelessness and make a new start. Our Rising Stars programme provides that opportunity. We put the person first, providing them with everything they need to get, and keep a job. From training and travel to weekly support groups, your donation supports this essential work,” the Foundation stated.

One of the Rising Stars is Mo, who came to the UK at the age of 20 seeking asylum. Mo experienced a lot of rejection before finally being granted the right to live and work in the UK. However, when Covid hit, he found himself without a job or a place to stay and he reached out to The Pret Foundation’s Rising Stars Programme.

Mo said: “If I didn’t have this job, I don’t know what I would have done. Thankfully, I was able to find somewhere to live and could continue to pay rent." 

“I’m now training to become a barista and I’m also in my first year studying business management at university. The Rising Stars programme has enabled this and I’m so grateful,” Mo added.    

The Pret Foundation also supports charities and projects working to help homeless people throughout the UK in communities local to Pret shops. In addition to donating food to shelters and hostels, the Foundation supports smaller charities with anything they need; from sleeping bags and kitchen equipment, to funding jobs that are crucial to keeping these much-needed organisations alive. For more information about The Pret Foundation, visit the website.

More about Change Please here.

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