Cafes with a Conscience: Manchester – words Rachel Kevern
Doing good feels good, and making a positive difference to the lives of others in some way is something that most of us aspire to. In fact, psychological studies have shown that doing good things for others makes you happier, is beneficial for health and well-being, and can help to reduce stress.
However, sometimes life just feels too busy, and helping others can quickly fall from the top of our to-do lists. We say that we’ll volunteer when we have more spare time, or that we’ll go out of our way to do good deeds when we have less on our own plates. But what if you could help others without disrupting your daily routine? What if you could make a positive change for the price of a cup of coffee (literally)?
These Manchester cafes all run community initiatives and support grass-roots organisations, supporting those who need it most; so, your morning cuppa really can make a difference. And while you’re at it, why not treat yourself to a slice of cake? You are doing a good deed, after all. Lending a helping hand never tasted so good.
Every year in the UK 18 million tonnes of food end up in landfill. This has been approximated to come to an annual value of £23 billion, a figure that is increasing rapidly due to rising prices. Studies have revealed that much of the food thrown away could be avoided – 4,100,000 tonnes, or 61% of the total amount of food waste could have been eaten or used in 2007. In 2017, founder of Open Kitchen cafes Adam Smith decided to try to change this.
Formerly named the Real Junk Food Project, Open Kitchen MCR is a not-for-profit community interest company. Rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste, the team at Open Kitchen then uses these ingredients to make amazing meals for anyone and everyone on a pay-as-you-feel basis. They intercept edible food destined for waste from supermarkets, restaurants and local shops, and make it available for consumption through a network of small, community-focused cafes and food boutiques. In February 2019, the initiative served its 250,000th Pay As You Feel meal, meaning that they had saved approximately 128.8 tonnes of food and filled over 257,649 bellies in just two years.
Smith told reporters that we should be “deeply embarrassed and ashamed as a society that we’ve got children going to school hungry, food banks and homelessness on the rise in this country, resources being waster all over the planet, and food being unnecessarily thrown away when it’s still perfectly edible.”
He continued, saying: “The project has been seen as radical and all this nonsense but I’m only feeding people. The only reasons people see us as radical is because they’re so removed from the problem.”
By allowing people to pay as much or as little as they feel, Open Kitchen welcomes individuals from all walks of life. Their website states that the cafes encourage visitors to pay for their food in “cash, time, skills or imagination!” Each cafe is run by representatives from the local community, and a warm welcome (and a hearty meal) is always guaranteed.
Another not-for-profit, Nexus Art Cafe strives to use its ethos of inclusion, respect, and hospitality to build community and provide a creative space in the heart of the city centre. The walls of the cafe are covered with the work of emerging artists, and the venue regularly plays host to creative workshops and meetings.
Nexus also facilitates local grassroots organisations and works with its users to support sustainable community development projects. The cafe’s strict alcohol-free policy creates a safe place for people to gather and relax without the pressure of drinking, and those who enjoy an alternative evening out can attend various events, exhibitions and gigs. These include life drawing classes, film nights, and games evenings.
The small shop in the corner also supports local creatives, featuring zines, t-shirts, prints and jewellery.
A sign next to the entrance states: “Nexus provides everyone the space to be their own unique wonderful selves, regardless of age, creed, sexuality or ethnic origin.” They also do a mean cup of coffee, great food, and at least five different types of homemade sweet treats a day. What’s not to love?
Voted London’s ‘Top Coffee-House’ 2016, Department of Coffee and Social Affairs is now open in Manchester. Besides providing the people of the UK with excellent speciality coffee, this cafe is re-thinking what it means to be a successful business. Stefan Allesch-Taylor CBE, the Chairman and CEO of the company, states: “We measure our commercial success equally to our social impact. We think that every company, everywhere, should do the same.”
Hoping to affect a paradigm shift in market, the organisation weave into their daily lives a number of worthy projects, organisations, and causes. This includes supporting the creation of humanitarian programmes, funding governance and leadership training, and providing mentorship in a variety of fields.
To show that they’re serious about making a difference, the company publishes a Social Impact Report each year. In the foreword to the 2018 report, Allesch-Taylor writes that they aim to embody “a new way to look at entrepreneurship, not merely as a business building tool, but to tackle seemingly insurmountable social problems.” Last year, they built on their existing projects in South Africa, Malawi, and London, and began to work in Bacalar, Mexico.
Some of the most notable of the projects implemented or supported by Department of Coffee and Social Affairs include: “a unique entrepreneur driven ‘Self-Supply’ programme to alleviate water poverty in Malawi”, which saw Pump Aid crowned “International Aid and Development Charity of the Year” at the 2017 UK Charity Awards, and providing emergency response measures when a catastrophic fire engulfed the Imizamo Yethu township in South Africa. The fire wiped out the homes and belongings of thousands of people in just a few hours, destroying a huge section of the 18-hectare informal settlement, which is home to around 40,000 people. Flying to South Africa, members of the organisation were able to provide over 40 families and more than 150 people with ‘Re-Start Grants’ to allow them immediate access to the basics required for everyday life and to support them until formal Government and Agency support was established.
Other initiatives include the Department of Coffee and Social Affairs South African Soccer Academy, which is based in Imizamo Yethu and now has 70 boys and 20 girls in the squads. The organisation aims to provide young people with purpose, motivation, and coaching. This encourages them to avoid the gang-related crime which is rife in the area. Coaches and community leaders reported that none of the boys became involved in any gang-related issues last year, and that most of them attend training five to six times a week.