Second Shot Coffee is a speciality coffee shop with a difference. Their mission is to “bring people together to tackle homelessness one espresso at a time”. I met up with founder, Julius Ibrahim, to find out more.
wscf: How is Second Shot Coffee tackling homelessness?
Julius: We train people who’ve been affected by homelessness as baristas, equipping them with enhanced employment skills to help rebuild their lives.
What made you decide to set up Second Shot Coffee in Bethnal Green?
Bethnal Green has lots of coffee enthusiasts who want great quality products. And, at the same time, it’s smack bang in the middle of Tower Hamlets, a borough with a big homelessness problem. But the area is also home to a number of agencies offering support to homeless people. So it’s an ideal place to bring different communities together to change attitudes and offer practical support.
We work in partnership with charities including Cafés from Crisis, The House of St Barnabas and Centrepoint to help our trainees find employment after their stint with us, either in the hospitality industry or in other sectors depending on their skills and interests.
And why do you think it’s important to change attitudes to homelessness?
I think many people don’t understand how easy it is to become homeless, and what a difficult situation it is to get out of. In the UK quite a lot of people are probably only a couple of pay cheques away from being homeless. It’s surprising how quickly things can unravel, say, if you lose your job or your relationship breaks down.
Tell me about your ‘pay it forward’ wall.
We didn’t invent ‘pay it forward’. In fact, the term originates from a novel called ‘Pay it Forward’ which tells the story of a young boy who does three good deeds for others in need. All he asks in return is that they in turn pass on a good deed to three other people and keep the cycle going. And now there’s even an annual UK Pay It Forward Day.
But the way we’ve implemented our pay it forward wall is unique to us. When they pay their bill, customers can donate a pound or two extra into a food and drink fund, and make a sketch on the wall next to the till as a record of their gift. Then when someone homeless comes in to request a meal or drink from the scheme, very often a conversation will start up between them and another customer. It encourages questioning, and people become more willing to help. We’re creating a great community with our customers.
What’s your background? What inspired you to set up Second Shot Coffee?
I was studying economics at University College London (UCL). While I was there I got involved with an organisation called Enactus, whose aim is to inspire students to improve the world by developing entrepreneurial solutions to global challenges. Through Enactus I did consultancy work with some social enterprises, and supported other students to do the same. Most of my fellow students were aiming for careers with investment banks. But, for me, it was awesome to feel that I was making a real difference in the world. I decided that was what was most important to me, and I wanted to do it full-time. So I left UCL before my final year to do my own thing. At the same time, I’d been frustrated with some false starts with homelessness projects I’d come into contact with, so that was the area I decided to focus on.
What were your biggest challenges in setting up Second Coffee Shot? Did anything in particular take you by surprise?
Initially, I was surprised how difficult it was to find the right staff. But we’ve got a great team now. It was important to establish ourselves firmly on the specialist coffee map. Sometimes people imagine that a charity or social enterprise won’t offer the same quality as a purely commercial business. But our Head of Coffee has a background in the coffee industry, so he sources exceptional artisan coffees for us (including West Sussex family firm, Cast Iron; Margate-based roasters, Curve; and Hertfordshire roasters, Campbell & Syme).
Having that platform gives us more opportunity to ramp up our social impact. Now I can leave more of the day-to-day work to the team, and focus on planning for the future.
And what does the future hold for Second Shot Coffee?
Now we’ve established ourselves it would be great to have a larger space, and to increase the range of food we offer. We’ve proved that our model works, so I’d definitely like to open more branches in the future.
Do you think we’ll continue to need Second Shot Coffee shops? Have you noticed any difference in the numbers and situation of homeless people in London?
Well, we’ve only been open since May 2016, so it’s hard to comment. But we’re hearing more now about homeless people being barred from public spaces. The realisation that homelessness could happen to anyone is vital. It’s so important to develop empathy and understanding, and encourage everyone to stand up for the rights of people who’ve become homeless.