There is coffee in a great location and an array of great people flurrying in and out of the doors. I’m on Lambs Conduit Street, which is arguably one of the greatest streets in London. However, the backstory and spirit of this newcomer to Lambs Conduit Street and Coal Drops Yard is distinctively different to other roasters in London. Head of Coffee & Operations, Harry Graham, is telling me about the backbone of this unique new opening; great coffee meets 17-21 year old young male prison inmates. I know what you’re thinking; maybe the two sound like they shouldn’t be in the same sentence?
Nestled amongst the diverse businesses on Lambs Conduit Street, Redemption Roasters looks like any other successful London café: a great location on one of the city’s premier streets, a steady stream of customers enjoying top-quality coffees and an inviting array of snacks and pastries. But there’s a twist in the story of this particular coffee shop – one that really does mark it out as quite unique. After all, you don’t normally expect to find the terms ‘great coffee’ and ‘young offenders’ in the same sentence, but that’s the surprising backstory behind Redemption Roasters – perhaps I’d better start at the beginning.
Harry Graham is Redemption’s Head of Coffee, and he’s telling me how it is that the company came to offer a fresh start to young male prison inmates aged between 17 and 21. He gives me a bit of insight into the plight of young offenders like this: 50% of them are highly likely to re-offend after being released without skills or a job to go to. They return to the only thing they know: a life of crime. With this in mind, Redemption Roasters were approached by the Ministry of Justice to help address the problem of reoffending. The result was that they started operating a roastery and barista training centre within Aylesbury Prison, as well as a café for the prison community and visitors. The young inmates not only pick up useful skills but learn the importance and value of a job and a routine. The end result – to go back to that surprising sentence – is the creation of great coffee made by young offenders.
The process means that inmates are able to apply for roles at Redemption Roasters within the prison walls of Aylesbury, join their training program and earn a wage. This is the beginning of teaching inmates how to create coffee, work as baristas and, more importantly, offer them real jobs when released. “It’s a way to take these guys out of the habit of reoffending and show them respect for something. Despite us only working with a relatively small group of individuals, we’re having much wider impact overall in stopping these individuals from reoffending,” says Harry. “So far, we’ve had a 100% success rate with the inmates we’ve worked with. Most roles offered within prisons are more like chores than actual work – things like sorting rubbish and doing laundry. What we’ve been able to offer is far more substantial.”
After the success of the roastery and the wholesaling side of the business, planning started on launching the first Redemption Roasters café in the heart of Bloomsbury. “It became obvious that there was a missing link in our business structure,” says Harry. “There we were, training these individuals and giving them all of this knowledge, but potentially leaving them with no way of putting it to good use. We felt that it would be a natural progression for the business to launch our own café. That way, we could be there when inmates were released and be able to offer them a job as a barista outside of the prison. It was a conscious decision, and the perfect way to offer roles to members of our training program. The case with many young offenders who leave prison and go into an employment situation is that they lose the job after a number of months. Employers aren’t typically familiar with prison culture. There are little routines and procedures within prison walls that don’t apply to day-to-day reality outside, and this can lead to employees losing their jobs. The difference with us is that we already understand prison culture, so we know how to work around issues such as these.”
The search for Redemption’s first café was on, although Harry stresses that they weren’t in a rush: it was all about finding the right place at the right time. “For us, Lambs Conduit Street had a strong identity behind it. It’s one of those London streets which is unforgettable – it’s proper London. We wanted it to be taken seriously, to fit comfortably with the other unique tenants on the street, but also to stand out from the crowd and have its own distinct personality.” The café launched in 2017, and all the indications are that it’s been well received by local residents and neighbourhood businesses alike. Perhaps that’s because people can understand the social impact of the idea and see that it makes Redemption Roasters a special place – after all, getting these young men out of reoffending benefits not just them but wider communities. This isn’t your ordinary café; I guess you could call it a landmark. And the idea of giving young offenders a second chance via caffeine? Somehow, there’s an element of genius to the idea.