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Well Grounded

London, UK

Interview with: Eve Engelbert

Eve Engelbert spent her childhood daydreaming of boybands and preparing experimental cooking for her mum and sister. She remembers a particularly creative risotto of pineapple and starfruit and has since nurtured a lifelong commitment to The Backstreet Boys. But, having grown up with a nephew who has Down Syndrome, and having been a member of an inclusive theatre company from a young age, Eve also developed a dedicated interest in social equality and inclusion that has shaped her personal belief system and career. In 2005, Eve tasted Monmouth coffee for the first time, having just moved to London. It was the beginning, not just of her burgeoning obsession with coffee, but of an idea she’d be thinking about for the next decade - she wanted to connect her love of coffee with her passion for social impact. Eve is a fellow of the School for Social Entrepreneurs, a Centre for Charity Effectiveness Alumni, and a trustee of a local Down Syndrome charity. After 10 years in the voluntary sector, she’d built up the confidence and experience to go it alone. While studying for a part-time MBA, she bit the bullet and left her charity sector job to begin work on Well Grounded. With a clear vision and defined goals for the future, here we ask Eve about the journey so far launching a Social Enterprise within the specialty coffee industry.

What does Well Grounded look like today?

Well Grounded is a Specialty Barista Academy, developing talent in the coffee industry. Our aim is to help end unemployment by linking people looking for work with an industry looking for employees. Quite simply, we help people find and sustain work in specialty coffee. What we are trying to do at Well Grounded is think about community engagement and industry recruitment in a different way.

For cafes, we want to provide a specialist training and recruitment solution that is a cost effective way to bring new talent into the industry. We offer free Specialty Coffee Association accreditation, work readiness training and mentorship. At the same time, cafes are able to make a huge impact on their community and bring a new and diverse generation of talent into the industry.

Since launching in February 2016, we have supported 80 people to access learning and technical skills as coffee specialists, transitioned 10 people into employment and a further 6 into education outcomes.

Tell us about the early days and what you set out to achieve establishing Well Grounded?

First off, all I set out to achieve was: will this work? Will the industry want to engage with a pro-social recruitment and training approach and will those at risk of unemployment want to work in the industry?

During the first few months we had nothing, just a determination to create opportunities for people who otherwise might not have had a chance to work within an industry that I’d grown to love. Without any funding, we initially relied on a lot of goodwill and a network of committed supporters – CEOs of charities I’d hunted down, business mentors, social enterprise incubators… anyone that could propel us a little bit further.

Thanks to a serendipitous meeting with Ozone Coffee (a former colleague at a local youth group introduced us after a chance conversation) I discovered that Ozone believed in the vision of what we were trying to achieve as much as I did, and together we piloted our first employment programme.

What opportunities are you making the most of to set a path for the future?

We’ve got some really exciting plans in the pipeline for 2017 that we can’t wait to unearth. They focus on local coffee and social impact projects and reaching a greater number of people at risk of long-term unemployment. They also focus on the wider educational framework supporting coffee and how we can all work collaboratively to support a structured, affordable and accessible progression pathway.

Over the next 5 years we aim to support over 300 people into employment in coffee and progress our graduates through the industry into sustainable progressive careers. We also want to support corporates and community cafes to improve their coffee offering, so they can give their local residents and staff consistently great coffee. This includes better coffee and better trained staff.

Finally, we are working with government to launch the first ever Head Barista Apprenticeship. At a structural level, we want to put in place a universally accessible education pathway in the industry.

This project needed industry support right from grass roots level – tell us about who you have partnered with to make this program a growing success.

Absolutely, without the industry we wouldn’t be here.

First off, all hail Ozone Coffee, for taking the risk to join forces and propel Well Grounded from day one. Without the support of Fran, Anson and the team at Ozone, I’m not sure I would have taken that fatal move to leave the comfort of full-time employment and start on this journey.

Some key partners for us have been Andrew Tolley from Taylor Street Baristas, Daniel Thompson at Soho House Group, the team at SCA and La Marzocco. That’s not to mention the support from our first wave of employers: Notes Coffee, Blightly Coffee, Vagabond, Dose Espresso, Old Spike Roastery and Batch & Co. What’s more, third sector partners such at House of St Barnabas and Pro Baristas have been central to our first year.
Our employers and AST trainers have dedicated their time and commitment to deliver our first year. The industry can be quite intimidating for an outsider at first, but once we could prove the quality of our work we’ve had nothing but support from everyone. We are seriously grateful.

Life is about communicating and working together. Today, Well Grounded looks like a rich network of coffee leaders, third sector partners and incredible graduates who have shaped our journey and will lead our future.

In a broad sense, the Millennial generation has arguably been brought up with values of self-interest and success. What was it about pursuing a social enterprise model that resonated with you on a personal level?

If you could start a business that made a profit and solved a social problem, wouldn’t you do it? I think everyone would.

I’m not sure we were built on values of self-interest, maybe more sufficiency, choice and opportunity. But we’ve grown up in a world where the disparity between rich and poor is ubiquitous and… snowballing. On the streets of London, this plays out in front of you, there is no hiding from it, you can see it, smell it and feel it every step you take. And across the country it’s even starker. I think we are growing up in a world where a lot of people want to change that and take responsibility.

Charities are under increasing pressure. We all know how the story has gone – less money for the most vulnerable who are being hit hardest by lack of funding. On a personal level, I believe cause-driven business is the only way we can affect change systemically: a business that addresses a social problem through a commercial model.

Have there been any major or minor set backs? What’s the hardest thing?

Mainly working alone, it’s hard motivating yourself every single day. Well Grounded doesn’t exist to make money. It exists to make enough money to do what it needs to do to affect social change.

Some days, it took every fibre of my being not to just hide under the cover and watch back-to-back box-sets. Sometimes, I failed in this pursuit (I mean, have you seen Billions?). But most of the time, the thought of what we were trying to achieve was all I needed to get into gear every day. That, and black coffee.

You work in a world where Social Enterprise is the norm – do you connect with and gain support from other altruistic organisations?

Yes. I’m passionate about social enterprise and lucky enough to have a great network of social businesses around me. We are involved in programmes such as UnLtd, Clear Village, School for Social Entrepreneurs and Beyond Business at the Bromley by Bow Centre. All of which incubate and support new social enterprises.

We are also delivering a service that is changing lives, and luckily there are organisations keen to support this work. In our first year we received start up funding from Investec, Prudential, National Express, UBS & Lloyds Bank. We are keen to continue to work with partners who are committed to providing sustainable employment opportunities for Londoners. So get in touch if you are reading please!

Hospitality skills are often learnt ‘on the job’. It is one of the few professions you can walk into without formal tertiary education, an apprenticeship or any level of experience. Has the relatively easy access to this industry played a positive role in the development of the Well Grounded model?

In a way. The fact that skills can be ‘learnt’ on the job is brilliant. It means that with the right support and development we can transition those with few qualifications into the industry. But I do believe that working in hospitality takes a really sophisticated series of skills, qualities and strengths that sometimes aren’t recognised.

Historically, society valued hospitality as a job of the highest accolade. And now I worry that value is diminishing in the public eye. Every single day most people access some kind of hospitality; it can make or break your day. I believe that it is our role to raise the profile of hospitality. That’s why our work at an education level is so vital.

Without progression, both financial and skills based, we may lose some great people that could prosper and benefit the industry.