Coffee-based social enterprise helps marginalised people into business

A morning cup of coffee can make or break some people’s day, but for those involved in We Walk the Line, it can make the difference to their whole lives

A faint aroma of coffee drifts through the entrance of a charity shop in East London. Inside, on a gleaming red tricycle and coffee cart, a man is producing fine cups of artisan coffee.

We Walk the Line is a not-for-profit social enterprise that helps young and disadvantaged people become their own boss, by teaching them the skills and attributes they need to run their own business.

Kieron Tilley, co-founder of We Walk the Line, explained the idea behind locating a coffee-making tricycle in a charity shop and the system that brews the result.

Tilley believes there are not enough opportunities for marginalised people to set themselves up in business. He said: “It seemed to us that there weren’t many mechanisms out there to support those young and disadvantaged people into self-employment status. So we came up with this idea, to offer an apprenticeship in business and barista skills, with the end goal of using these skills to set up on your own, running a micro coffee business.”

The social enterprise helps those who have been sidelined by society and supports them to become self-employed as baristas. Tilley sees the entrepreneurial training as a way for talented but marginalised individuals to get back on their feet.

“We help with the buying of stock, with ongoing marketing and support, paperwork, licensing and that sort of thing. And in return you run your coffee concession as a self-employed person, supported by the social enterprise.”

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Tom Harris, the man on the red tricycle, is We Walk the Line’s first barista and started trading four months ago, selling coffee from his mobile cart. As well as the charity shop, Harris has been serving fantastic coffee at street markets and corporate events, including events for Ben & Jerry’s.

Tilley and his co-founder Mat Corbett have previously worked with dispossessed people and their experience is telling. The self-employment model of We Walk the Line promotes independence with support that lasts for up to two years following the start of any new trading activity.

“We can help them attain an accreditation in enterprise. It just so happens that our pilot phase is looking at developing skills in business and barista work. But in five years’ time it could be business and floristry or business and cycle repair, for example,” Tilley explains.

Moving forward We Walk the Line wants to expand by finding new locations to place its coffee carts. Hotel lobbies, train stations, corporate lobby spaces and charity shops are all on the agenda and in five years’ time they would like to have hundreds of people working for themselves, as self-sufficient business people.

“Turning an idea into something sustainable is a challenge. The trick is to get the right person in the right pitch, selling the right product at the right price,” says Tilley.

We Walk The Line are currently located at Dalston Roof Park, in the Bootstrap building.

This article was written by Christopher Ubsdell while taking part in the Big Issue online journalism programme with Poached Creative. To find out more visit their website.