Bethnal Green road is an interesting one. Connecting trendy Shoreditch with hipster Hackney, it’s in that strange not-quite, gentrified limbo where chicken shops and charity shops stand side by side organic corner stores and artisan coffee.
A juxtaposition of culture and communities that don’t always see eye to eye. But Second Shot Coffee is different.
Although still clearly part and product of that privileged world, where there is both the time and money to spend on something as frivolous as coffee, there is a deeper purpose to its’ existence. Far more than their spectacularly strong coffee, perfect pours and a comfortable, friendly place to while away an afternoon – Second Shot is also helping the homeless… “one espresso at a time”
Part of this involves operating a Pay it Forward wall, which allows customers to pay in advance (at a slightly reduced price) for an extra coffee or meal for someone else later on. A clever little system of donating money in a way that shows you exactly where it goes and how it will help. You can also can also choose to donate your loyalty card stamps in this way with 3 stamps getting a free hot drink for someone that is homeless.
Coffee and food aside, Second Shot also provide the kind of support that’s needed to tackle homelessness in the long term. They work with charities and train those affected to be baristas in the shop, with the aim of then helping them to find further employment with the skills and experience they gain.
I can hear your cynicism but this is not a gimmicky social enterprise idea riding an exponential millennial trend. Nor is it an easy way for us to feel good about ourselves, doing “our bit” while safely protected from the real issues of the world.
Just as Second Shot stays passionate and true to their Levi-wearing, coffee-loving audience, meeting the high standards expected by aficionados like me, the sincerity and care they demonstrate for the other half of their customers is just as real. And that I think, is why it works.
It’s a coffee shop in its own right, without any pressure or expectation to donate which means happy customers continue to come back because they love their coffee. As a result, people continue to get the support they need.
Now, this may give us a warm fuzzy feeling inside but really, it is also helping to dispel the prejudices of what being homeless is as we understand a bit more about the person underneath. The whole thing is a fairly ingenious idea and the brain child of Julius Ibrahim, who wanted a way of using his passion of coffee to bring the issue of homelessness into the mainstream.
Its’ set up as a coffee shop for consumers almost makes this a natural process as the two are united inside a space where people can’t just be ignored.
And whilst coffee can’t solve all problems, if it can help break down the physical barrier that exists, this might just be the first step in breaking down the mental barrier responsible for building those walls of prejudice we hide behind.
And if Second Shot can do this – that’s something very powerful indeed.
Long may they continue to serve great coffee and help society… one espresso at a time.