Can simply drinking coffee help the homeless? We went to Old Spike in Peckham to find out.
Lucy and her husband moved to London 4 years ago, from Romania, and were soon forced into homelessness. The pair were living in alarming conditions; staying in temporary accommodation and making only £12 per day selling the Big Issue. Now, they are both on a regular wage and are employed full time. As Old Spike’s first and longest employee, Lucy is the face of the company and is known by all the regulars.
What Is Old Spike?
Founded in 2015, by Cemal Ezel and Richard Robinson, Old Spike is a cafe and coffee roastery in Peckham - 54 Peckham Rye, to be precise. As a social enterprise, their mission is to train and employ homeless people. For those unfamiliar with the day-to-day of a South London coffee roaster, there are plenty of jobs to do including: barista, packer and delivery driver. You'd be forgiven for thinking this is all Old Spike do. Providing meaningful employment for the homeless is just one part of this incredible independent business.
The other part? Like most coffee roasters, they also strive to make the best coffee in town. So, on top of fighting homelessness, they also focus on roasting high-quality single origin coffee with speciality beans sourced from all over the world.
“We realised there was an opportunity to provide a service that people need whilst doing some social good through employing disadvantaged people or those with disabilities” explains Richard. When they settled back in London after some time traveling and working abroad, the pair refined the concept to helping the homeless by selling coffee.
“We wanted the combination of a café at the retail end, and a roastery at the wholesale end. This way you can employ baristas and also have the wholesale jobs such as packing, delivering and doing sales. Not only does this create more jobs, but it also provides our team with more diverse skill sets.” Now, almost two years later, they have already outgrown their first site at Peckham Rye.
At 61 years of age, Lucy has been working at Old Spike since the very beginning. Not only does she now have the technical knowledge and skill to work as part of the coffee-roasting wholesale side of the business, but she is also a seasoned barista. In fact, her coffees hold their own against the horde of beard-wearing twenty somethings that have, until now, led London’s coffee revolution. “Her coffee is amazing. I can tell when she's made it. It’s the best” Glenys tells us, without doubt or hesitation. Glenys is the social media manager at Old Spike.
Despite the romanticism of this success story, Lucy has now moved on and works full time at her new job with a company called Change Please (more on them later). Don’t worry - she still finds the time to work a few hours at Old Spike on the weekend.
What to Expect
At the time of our visit, both founders are in the shop accompanied by Glenys and, behind the machine, barista Johnny. The atmosphere is welcoming: people are bustling in & out of the intimate space and, from the way they’re being greeted, you can tell that there are many regulars among them. What is striking is that they seem to be regulars in two senses of the word. Not only do they clearly frequent Old Spike, but they’re also no different from you or me; they're regular people. They are coffee lovers, not hardcore philanthropists. They’re everyday people who have chosen to drink great coffee and do something amazing in the process.
High-seated tables and a little bench outside give you the opportunity to stay and drink your coffee in the shop. The interior is minimalist; brick walls, wooden flooring and homely plants reflect the simplicity, humility and genuine charm of this unique local coffee shop & roastery.
2017 is looking good, with exciting new plans in the pipeline. The first of which is that Camberwell will soon be, as of April 1st, home to Old Spike’s 2nd roastery site complete with bar and kitchen. The retail side will be run by a different company, who work with the same ethos as Old Spike, and will be focussing more on the evenings; serving food and drinks. Regulars do not fear: despite expanding, the Old Spike team are sure to maintain their values and the incredible standard of their coffee. Staying true to South London, they’ll be creating more jobs, helping more people and, above all, will be able to meet even the largest demands for their fabulous coffee.
However, it’s not all been a fairy-tale story. Richard explains how hard it can be to run a business that not only focuses on serving quality coffee and employing the homeless, but also pays the bills on time and keeps ticking over. Richard explains "Ultimately, if this company isn’t successful, we can’t employ people. So in that sense, business has to come first. Our goal is to grow so we can help more people."
Breaking the Cycles
Next to training and employment, the team at Old Spike help people get the extra emotional and financial support they need.
“When people are dealing with mental health difficulties, we try to point them in the right direction and get them assistance with drugs or alcohol issues. We are aware that people who have experienced homelessness usually cope with the stress and pressure through other means, which only worsen their condition. On top of that, people don’t want to give you a job if you don’t have a house, but you also can’t get a house if you don’t have a job."
The team at Old Spike break this cycle by paying newcomers’ first month of rent out of their payslip and by offering them support housing. “It’s not one size fits all. You have to look at the individuals. What are they good at? What would they like to do from a job perspective? Also, what potential issues they are facing?”.
Don’t Be a Bystander
Do you routinely make your own coffee at home or at work? Do you love great coffee? Old Spike are able deliver their quality coffee on a subscription basis. Simply tell them how you brew your coffee and choose how often you’d like it delivered. It’s that simple. They also change their roasts every few weeks, so you won’t find yourself craving a change.
On top of all that, South London Club Card holders receive 5% off the normal monthly subscription cost of £6.95 (for a 200g bag). Lucy’s story is a powerful one. It’s time we all helped to create more stories like hers. Use promo code 'SLCCOFFEE5' at the checkout and have your membership card ready for inspection upon delivery.
WHAT IS THE SOUTH LONDON CLUB CARD?
The South London Club is a local discount card to help support small independent businesses across South London whilst saving all who live, work & play in South London money! With over 500+ local discounts to choose from, you will discover & explore all the best hidden gems in South London. Join over 4,000 of us & celebrate all that's independent & South London!