Big Interview: Redemption Roasters

Big Interview: Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters is on a mission to provide coffee training and skills to prison inmates to help them reintegrate into society on their release. Coffee Business World editor Kate Oppenheim reports on how 16-months on, Redemption's achievements have turned it into a Ministry of Justice success story.

Redemption Roasters opened a roastery and training facility at Aylesbury’s young offenders institute (YOI) in April 2017 with the mission to provide inmates’ skills to help them successfully reintegrate into society. Fast forward 16-months: with the roastery at ‘high’ capacity, it’s now looking to establish a second site, having set-up two further training facilities at other HM Prisons.

HMP Spring Hill and HMP & YOI Bullingdon have become the first of what Redemption hopes will be a number of prisons where it will provide barista training and skills to help offenders find jobs when they complete their sentences.

Two new coffee outlets are also in the pipeline for this autumn - a shop in King’s Cross (on the site of the new shopping development on Central Saint Martins’ Kings Cross campus) and a kiosk in Broadgate Circus - taking the total number of retail outlets ‘on the outside’ to four.

Its own coffee shops and the fast-growing list of new ‘high profile’ clients of cafes, hotels and wholesalers, has seen production at the roastery near capacity at 1.5 tonnes a week, ‘thanks to head of wholesale Thomas De Garnham’, explains co-founder Max Dubiel (*pictured right).

Redemption has also just won the contract to supply the National Trust’s café at Waddesdon Manor in Buckinghamshire and Dubiel is hopeful this will lead to other similar contracts (the National Trust has more than 350 cafes, with catering its third largest revenue generator).

Talks are also underway with operators in the wider hospitality sector, including Nandos, and Redemption is investing in the coffee too, with more trips to source the ‘very best’ beans, working with smaller farms. Coming soon, says Dubiel, are exciting new signal origins from Uganda, Kenya and Ethiopia.

“We’re working hard to show the high quality of our coffee, as we want Redemption to be known for its excellent speciality coffee, as much as our work with offenders,” he explains.

It has been a tremendous 16-months for Redemption, although there have been a few hiccups along the way. Learning that young offenders in Aylesbury are relocated to prisons nearer their homes, prior to release, severely impacted the scheme’s ability to successfully complete training and ultimately get them jobs.

However, a better selection process has been part of the solution, along with a broader understanding of what works and what doesn’t, with a view to renegotiating a new deal going forward. Currently, Aylesbury Prison is paid a percentage of the wholesale coffee leaving the prison, while the facilities, utilities and staff are all provided for free.

Redemption’s success has also won it recognition. It was recently featured by the Ministry of Justice as a case-study for its re-education strategy. This created interest and approaches from around 20 other prisons (including Spring Hill and Bullingdon), which were all keen to set up a roastery and academy inside too.

“While setting up a roastery is expensive and far from easy, our new strategy is to work with more prisons and set-up just barista academies.”

Dubiel continues: “The prison service is very much results driven and having a company that can deliver skills to people that will result in jobs and employment opportunities is the golden bullet. It doesn’t matter if you’re a one-man band or a multi-national company, the Ministry of Prisons is happy to speak to you.”

Prisons’ education departments and providers have budgets too, which Redemption can tap into. But Dubiel is quick to point out, this ‘profit for purpose’ business and its investors aren’t focused on the returns, but creating skills and jobs for ex-offenders: prisoners are 50% more likely to reoffend if they leave prison without skills and a job. 

Redemption is currently working with Milton Keynes College’s prison education provision for both Spring Hill and Bullingdon, using a coffee shop model within the prison with two machines and grinders, etc, with the two weeks of barista training forming part of the college’s broader 6-8 week catering courses.

Once successfully trained, Redemption and its partners help find work in the sector.

Redemption’s London-based coffee shops – Bloomsbury Café on Lamb’s Conduit Street, Farringdon-Barbican Café on Long Lane (home to the training centre and head office) – take on former prisoners, with Dubiel, who is always looking for potential new employers for the graduates, keen to publicise that jobs don’t have to be in cafes, but could be within wholesalers, coffee roasters, machine suppliers and others involved in the sector.

“We have high ambitions and, as a business of our size, we are able to change strategy and business plans in order to seize all new opportunities.

“The retail and hospitality sector has experienced a bit of a hit these last six to eight months, with many players closing shops and even going out of business. So, we have changed our game to focus less on opening our own new shops and more on putting any site we do look at under more scrutiny.

"We’ve learned to be more hard-nosed with landlords in order to negotiate the best deals – it’s a buyer’s market,” he said.

Negotiating deals within the justice system is, unsurprisingly, very different with the emphasis on provision over price. “The Ministry of Justice’s new education and employment strategy is all about delivering quality – in terms of training and jobs,” he explains.

Dubiel forecasts that 20-30 prisoners will pass through Aylesbury’s roastery over the next year, with numbers at Bullingdon and Spring Hill going into the 100s.

“We’ve already completed training with 25 inmates at Bullingdon and Spring Hill and are finding jobs for the two who are due for release.”

Key to Redemption’s success – and that of the prisoners and, in reality, society at large – is opportunities on the outside for these men as they begin their new lives in the altogether brighter world of coffee. With this in mind, Dubiel hopes operators, wholesalers, roasters and manufacturers will like what they see and want to become involved and part of the Redemption success story.

* All photography courtesy of Matthew Walder.


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