Brewbird Coffee

The social enterprise cafe
making a difference

Here's how to set up your own social enterprise – 

Up-and-coming Camberwell’s newest coffee shop has much loftier aspirations than flogging flat whites to hipsters – it’s serving up second chances.

Brewbird Coffee is cafe with a difference – it’s a social enterprise run by St Giles Trust, a charity that helps 'socially excluded people‘, including ex-offenders, young adults who have recently left care, the homeless and people who have suffered with addiction.

As well as great coffee and cake, our main focus is to give ex-offenders a second chance and put their past behind them,’ proudly states the Brewbird website.

Over 60 per cent of people coming out of prison re-offend within their first year of release. We believe that by giving these people the opportunity to get straight into a working environment, we can drastically cut this number.

Employees receive training in barista and baking skills, as well as customer service and management, 'all in a judgement-free environment that allows them to shine‘.

Jonathan Smith, a former property developer who has been through difficult times himself, is at the helm of Brewbird. He works for St Giles Trust and has taken the number of 'clients‘ employed across Brewbird sites – which also includes a ‘coffee cart' at the London College of Fashion and investment banks in the heart of the city – from one to 12 in the past year.

The business model is pretty simple. ‘With knowledge of operating in City offices, universities and even a prison, Brewbird for business offers a new take on corporate hospitality. Our convenient in-house service offers artisan coffee and freshly baked cakes at no cost to your organisation.’

So companies effectively let Brewbird set up shop at their offices so their staff can enjoy good-quality food and drinks and the money they pay goes to Bluebird to provide employment and help its clients transition into work in the private sector.

Both national coffee chain Costa and Virgin Trains have employed Brewbird recruits and there are several more London sites planned for the rest of this year, as well establishing a presence in Leeds where the St Giles Trust is based.

London mayoral candidate Zac Goldsmith officially launched the Brewbird Cafe in Camberwell, south-east London, earlier this week and learnt to make a cappuccino – under the careful watch of the young St Giles Trust clients training to be baristas.

He said: ‘I am delighted to be part of the opening of the St Giles Trust launch of social enterprise Brewbird. This is an inspirational coffee chain that gives young people a real chance to change and where coffee has a greater meaning than just a drink.’

Running a social enterprise is no different from any other small business on a day-to-day basis, says Smith. ‘The products have to be good, the service has to be good and the finances have got to stack up.

Where there is a difference is that a business is set up to make profit and a social enterprise’s aim is to deliver social value – in other words, to do good.

'It's the middle ground between a charity and a business. You run a social enterprise like a business but have charitable aims,’ explains Smith.

If you’re passionate about a cause and thinking of setting up your own social enterprise, there are a few things you need to know.

Most are set up as community interest companies. These are ‘a special type of limited company which exists to benefit the community rather than private shareholders’, explains the government.

To set one up, you need to apply to Companies House with a ‘community interest statement’ that sets out what your social enterprise plans to do.

You may also have to create an ‘asset lock’, which is a legal agreement stating that the company’s assets will only be used for its social objectives and setting limits to the money it can pay to shareholders.

Your application will then be sent to the community interest company regulator automatically for approval.

You can find more information on CICs and the forms you will need to set one up here.

There is a wealth of financial support available for start-ups in the form of loans, grants and investment from a wide variety of sources. The Social Enterprise UK organisation has a handy list of them here as well as lots of useful information accessible through its main homepage.

The above article by Laura Whitcombe first published on in Apr, 2016.