At 7am on Tuesday 21st March 2017 we opened our doors for the first time. Nobody came in until half past eight and I’ll never forget the faces of our first few customers, who were like saviours from the emptiness. I am unashamed to say that, really, we had no idea what we were doing for those first few weeks, and if none of those customers had returned, I wouldn’t have blamed them. Thankfully, they did and so did other people and so it has continued until today (and hopefully tomorrow, ad infinitum).
We had big dreams for our little shop. We still do. There’s an almost unending list of things we want to do with our space, with our offering to our customers and with our contribution to our community. We thought these things would happen quickly and more easily than they have but now we’re more switched on to reality and are more aware of the need for patience. We understand that we can’t make wholesale changes immediately and that we aren’t able to throw vast amounts of money at things to make them better. We can only improve by working diligently and tirelessly to perfect our shop, piece by piece, step by step.
The people who make up the ‘we’ have also changed. At the start of this journey, we were Josh and Bradley. Bradley left six months after opening and now Josh, Imogen and Dan hold the reins. It took the three of us a long time to stabilise the business after Bradley’s departure and now we make a solid ownership trio. Dan and Imogen bought into this little project with enthusiasm and gave their all to keep us going, essentially saving our shop in the process.
During this time, we’ve had the chance to re-evaluate who we are and why we are here – what exactly is our purpose? We are a social enterprise, first and foremost. We exist to bring together the community that we are a part of, but what is the best way for us to achieve that? We started our efforts with a community meal every Sunday afternoon, targeting mainly the homeless, the struggling and the vulnerable. This served a good purpose and we gave out lots of free food and drink to people in a warm and dignified environment. The idea was to invite other services along, an ‘eat and meet’ concept. This happened less often that we wanted, mainly because many people working for charities etc. don’t work on a Sunday, which was disappointing. It became clear that, while we were definitely providing a service that was appreciated, there were other ways in which we could provide value to our community that, relatively, would have a more positive impact. So, following a few unsavoury incidents and a tough decision, we’ve now stopped our community meal and are taking a different approach.
Our aim is to make our relationship with our community more inclusive and wide-ranging. There are many ways in which we could have a positive impact on our town and we judge every opportunity on its own merits and its social return. We are currently working on a number of exciting projects, which we hope will not only help to shape our area but will allow everyone who walks through our doors to feel a part of something bigger than just a coffee shop. Most are just getting started but we’ve also been trying to increase our status as a community hub by hosting various different groups. A brief (and not exhaustive) summary of what we’re up to is below. Most are in collaboration with other organisations or individuals…
Hosting local groups such as:
– Men Tell Health, a charity focused on improving men’s mental health
– Camerados/Auricle, a community living room and sharing space
– A weekly recovery course from CGL for those with addictions (this is where we are currently directing our suspended coffees)
– Boro Soup, a space for grassroots projects to network and pitch for funding and donations
– Black Light Engine Room, an open mic poetry event and publisher
– DATARA, a local animal rights campaign group
– CO-LAB Teesside, a space for artists and creatives to connect, create and collaborate
– French Conversation Club, every other Saturday from 1pm
– A repair cafe: A place for people to bring some of their personal items and learn to fix them with help from people with expertise, saving them money and reducing our environmental impact
– A games night for those suffering from social isolation, potentially including one aimed at children
– A monthly podcast featuring those working on community projects in the local area to inform and inspire the people of Teesside (to launch soon!)
– We also provide regular help and advice for two recently launched initiatives: Enactus Teesside’s community fridge project and Incredible Edible Middlesbrough
We hope that you will all appreciate our move towards more diverse and inclusive community activities – it’s something we think will have a greater impact on our part of the world and we hope that you think so too. We’ll try and keep this journal updated regularly with any news, events or just on our progress in general and we’ll post any links on our social media channels. Thank you for all your support so far – we are very humbled that you choose our shop.
Thanks for reading,