How to: Open a Coffee Shop
To open a quality coffee shop in a deprived part of northern Portsmouth, selling fair trade drinks and healthy food at a price the community can afford.
What was the inspiration?
After years of thought and prayer, the small congregation, which had a vast Victorian building, launched a project to develop the church for the benefit of the community. One of the ideas that emerged right from the start was that if it was truly to be a place of welcome there should be a coffee shop in the entrance.
Who is the project for?
Buckland tends to be a ‘Cinderella’ area of the city and the feeling was the coffee shop should be for the whole community with good food and drinks in a quality environment, but at prices local people can afford. As well as serving individuals of all ages, we have a comfortable lounge space adjoining the coffee shop which is a particular favourite with parents and young children.
What advance planning was done?
We sent out 1000 letters asking for ideas from local residents. We also talked to other churches who already ran coffee shops. We spent a lot of time planning the space to give it an attractive and fun feel. In the end we chose to use some of the artefacts from the original church – chapel chairs, pews, an organ manual and a small section of the original pulpit.
We also gave a lot of thought as to whether to have paid staff or volunteers. In the end we went for two people job sharing supported by volunteers.
What resources did you need and how did you find them?
The coffee shop was part of a much bigger project involving giving from members, the Synod and charities. The Veolia Environmental Trust donated £39,000 specifically for the coffee shop. Most of our equipment was new ( we spent time looking for offers from the big commercial kitchen suppliers, but were also fortunate to pick up quality second hand equipment from a café, run on social enterprise lines, which was closing down).
How did the congregation get on board?
The congregation saw the coffee shop as an important part of their project from early on in their planning for the building. They also agreed to subsidise it for the first year. Volunteers helped with things like painting period chairs, and volunteering alongside the paid staff. Many also offer support by being regular customers and using it for special events.
How long did it take from the initial idea to opening the doors?
Because the coffee shop is part of a much bigger project it took over four years. This covered consultation with the congregation and the community, developing the plan with the Synod and architect and raising the funds. The building work took around seven months. It would clearly be much shorter for a church just transforming an existing room.
What regulation/legislation did you have to be aware of?
Food hygiene, allergy advice, safeguarding, health and safety, and employment legislation/good practice all need to be considered.
On a practical level you will need to inform your council’s environmental health team to get a food hygiene certificate and ensure that all paid staff and as many volunteers as possible have a level 2 food safety and hygiene certificate. There are a number of companies who do an on line course and charge in the region of £10-£20+VAT. Two that we have used are ESKY e-learning and Virtual College. The majority of local URC and Methodist Churches in our area have free access to an employment advisor who will provide sample contracts and advise on any employment issues. It is important to get the right balance between being a responsible and supportive employer on the one hand and protecting the interests of the church on the other. For those churches who cannot access free employment advice it is probably best to pay for it.
In terms of volunteers there are less legal obligations than for employees. However we have a duty to support them with training and to ensure their safety. If you are to retain them you need to make them feel valued.
Finally you need to inform your insurance company that you are both employing people and using volunteers on a regular basis. If you have an espresso coffee machine your insurance company may require an annual certificate to show that the machine has been serviced. (Some insurance companies require, and will charge you for, their engineer to be present at the service.)
Any problems or important things to do?
Our main issue is the tension on the one hand between paying fair wages and serving fair trade drinks etc. and on the other charging prices that relate to local incomes.
We have spent a lot of money on setting up the coffee shop and at the time of writing (five months after opening) with hard work from very committed staff and volunteers our daily takings are just covering salaries and supplies. Our aim is to cover all costs by the end of the first year.
Many churches go down the road of spending much less money and fully staffing with volunteers. This is a tried and tested model which can work well. However if you are considering paid staff our feeling is you need to create a quality environment to generate the income required to cover fair salaries.
What impact has this project had on the life of the community?
It is well used by the local community and others who work within the church premises, it has also been used by Hampshire Constabulary for ‘Cops and Coffee’ and by the Council for a survey on local health issues. (Life expectancy in the area where the church is set is seven years less than a ward 3 miles away.}
How has this changed the relationship between the church and the community?
The Church has become more ‘visible’ with the removal of railings and gates and the introduction of glass doors and windows facing the road. Local people are being drawn in and asking to use the premises for community events. Footfall in the coffee shop is now over 300 per week.
How has the life of the Church been transformed by the project?
We are a much more confident and welcoming congregation and we have attracted a small number of additional attenders on Sundays.
Contact Cliff Bembridge