An enterprise to tackle homelessness in the UK, Social Bite, has opened its first-ever London coffee shop offering full-time employment to people who have been homeless.
The London location will also include a ‘Pay-It-Forward’ system allowing customers to buy food and drinks in advance for homeless people to redeem later on.
More than 66,000 people will be living on the streets by 2024, according to annual forecasts, and Social Bite works tirelessly through various campaigns and initiatives to end homelessness.
NationalWorld interviewed the founder Josh Littlejohn MBE to understand more about the enterprise, what the inspiration behind it was and what its future plans are.
What is Social Bite?
Social Bite had humble beginnings as a local café in Edinburgh back in August 2012.
Mr Littlejohn said: “Originally the cafe didn’t have anything to do with the homelessness issue at all - we got involved in the issue by accident really.”
A young 19-year-old homeless man called Peter, who had been selling the Big Issue outside the cafe’s front door, came in and asked for a job at Social Bite - he sparked its mission to end homelessness in the UK.
“It seemed like a nice idea, so we gave Pete a job in the kitchen,” Mr Littlejohn said.
He added: “When we saw how hard he was working and what a difference the job made to him, we decided to try it again and started to offer more jobs to homeless people.
“Slowly but surely we got more immersed in the issue and introduced a ‘Pay it Forward’ system where customers could buy a meal for someone who was homeless to receive later.
Social Bite was then reborn and has been wrapped up in supporting individuals to reach their potential and truly break the cycle of homelessness.
Mr Littlejohn said: “When we offered Pete that job, I thought I was changing the course of his life, but in reality he was changing the course of mine, as he helped to inspire this social enterprise and all that has been achieved to end homelessness.”
How does the business help homeless people?
Social Bite has become a major employer of people experiencing homelessness and extreme barriers to employment, as well as one of the largest providers of free food.
180,000 items of food and hot drinks are given every year by enterprise, and over 800,000 food packs were delivered during the pandemic alone.
Mr Littlejohn said: “Over the last 10 years we have grown to a chain of seven cafes, where a quarter of our staff are from homeless backgrounds and we distribute over 140,000 items of food to homeless people.
“We have also launched a range of fundraising initiatives such as Sleep in the Park, which saw tens of thousands of people sleep out and raised millions of pounds to tackle homelessness.”
He added: “These funds have been used to build a village for homeless people and on nationwide housing programs which have now housed almost 1000 people.”
Mr Littlejohn explained to NationalWorld about the life of a particular individual that the Social Bite campaign helped - who when they met 10 years ago had been “homeless for over 20 years, living on the streets of London and Scotland.”
“He was in a very recent recovery from a heroin addiction when he found a job with Social Bite,” the founder of the business said.
He added: “His employment gave Colin something to focus on and over the last 10 years that he has worked for Social Bite, Colin has grown in responsibility within the organisation - mentoring new recruits and becoming a spokesperson on the issue of homelessness.
“It’s a real privilege to be able to open the new London cafe alongside Colin who is a shining example of the power of employment to help homeless people find their feet.”
When will the London coffee shop open and will there be ones in other locations?
London’s Social Bite coffee shop opened its doors on 15 March, 2022 - it currently has five cafes in Scotland.
The new cafe is on the Strand, near Covent Garden, with the location chosen because the London borough of Westminster has an “exceptionally high” number of rough sleepers.
Celebrities including the likes of Martin Kemp, Kate Garraway, Martin Compston and Chris Evans were pictured at the opening of the coffee shop in London, showing their support for the enterprise.
The founder told NationalWorld that the enterprise hopes to open new stores in major cities across the UK where homelessness is an issue.
Mr Littlejohn said: “We would love to try and open a Social Bite coffee shop in other cities such as Manchester, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff and many more.
“If the London shop is a success, it will give us a great test case to expand the model further afield.”
What else has the organisation achieved?
Today, its work has seen coffee shops open in almost every Scottish city, as well as successfully rolled out projects such as The Social Bite Village, Scotland’s Housing First Project.
Social Bite has partnered with The World’s Big Sleepout and had visits from some of Hollywood’s biggest names including Leonardo DiCaprio and George Clooney.
It has organised events such as Sleep in the Park which have raised more than £8 million.
The social enterprise has also been a Comic Relief beneficiary, having been awarded a £250,000 grant towards its nation-wide Housing First programme, and an additional £40,000 toward its free meals during the first lockdown - enabling the team to distribute over 800,000 food packs during the pandemic alone.
Are there any upcoming future events?
Mr Littlejohn revealed to NationalWorld the future events Social Bite has planned.
He said: “We have a 60 mile Glasgow to Edinburgh cycle event with 1000 riders led out by Sir Chris Hoy, coming up on 4 September to raise funds to help Social Bite build two new villages in two new cities.
“We are working on a range of new housing initiatives, including building two new Social Bite Village projects in two new cities.”
He added: “Homeless people need the same things as we all do in life - a place to call home, some support and a chance at employment.”
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