A new coffee shop has popped up on the scene in Portsmouth. Nestled amongst the bright lights of Commercial Road, Harbour Coffee House stands out for all the right reasons. The glow of its welcoming lights and elegant branding sets it apart from the chain snack bars and high street shops that are more familiar at the heart of the city.
Elsewhere in Southsea and Portsmouth, the independent business rules. I love that! So its no surprise that there has been much excitement in response to Harbour Coffee Shop opening its doors four weeks ago.
I nipped down to have a chat with Jonny, the manager at Harbour Coffee, and hear all about the particularly special reason this coffee shop has opened its doors.
“The story starts two summers ago, I visited Portsmouth with Alex and Ryan. We walked around Portsmouth, looked at the city and the idea of a church plant in Portsmouth. Probably out of that came the idea of how we work with vulnerable young people and that got me started with this.” Jonny used to work for a charity in East London who work with young people between the age of 14-19 who have been kicked out of mainstream education as well as supporting those age 19-24 get back into employment. This social work background gave him a great insight into social enterprise and what an impact work experience opportunities can have on young people.
“I saw a lot of things with social enterprise and how that was run, that I thought we could adapt for Portsmouth and also things that we could develop to really pioneer how the church does social enterprise, what that looks like and how you can create a culture of sustainable employment for vulnerable young people and adults.”
It wasn’t until Jonny visited a friend’s cafe, Cafe Fleur, in south west London that he began to formulate a plan for how the project could really work. Lucy, from Cafe Fleur, just happens to be from Portsmouth and offered the much needed advice and guidance on setting up the coffee shop. “So we’ve seen a disused retail shop underneath the church get converted into what you see now, with the idea that we’ll be taking on work experience placements as part of a partnership with Harbour Church, Portsmouth Cathedral and a national charity called Volition.”
Volition Community is an organisation that seeks to provide support and skills to those who find themselves long-term unemployed. Volition partner with cathedrals, businesses, city councils and Job Centres to provide a structured pathway to enable those who volunteer to get back into work.
Jonny explains; “The whole idea of Volition is to create sustainable avenues back into employment for vulnerable adults and young people. They do that through an education course, CV writing and mentoring as well as work experience opportunities. In Portsmouth; the Cathedral and Harbour Church will be partnering with Portsmouth College. The college will deliver the training and the church will be providing mentors. The idea of the coffee shop is that from September we will be able to provide work experience placements here. There will also be placements available in the church and the cathedral. We wanted to really create a live working experience for someone so they can come into an active shop with a culture and an ethos which teaches them all the skills they need to know to sustain employment.” The team that Jonny has gathered into the coffee shop are all enthusiastic supporters of the vision and are working hard to embed an ethos that will mean that the coffee shop becomes the perfect training ground for volunteers on the Volition programme.
Exciting ey? But will it work? So far, the statistics say YES. The programme that is running in Manchester has seen 50% of those volunteers coming through the Volition pathway finding employment afterwards, where they were then supported by their Volition programme mentors. That’s compared to the 19% success rate that the Job Centre’s work programme cites (according to Nesta).
There are so many avenues to explore with this kind of programme, volunteers are referred on to the scheme by Job Centre Plus and can be facing any number of challenges as they try to get back into work. As part of the partnership there will be mentoring and support for vulnerable young adults, long-term unemployed and ex-offenders. Innovative projects like this really do have huge capacity to change lives in Portsmouth.
So aside from all the amazing work we can expect to see from Harbour Coffee, there are a few other questions to tackle. I can vouch for their amazing smoothies (you have to try the Banana Espresso!) and the cake is mouth-watering but how have the first few weeks really been?
“I’ve come from being an in-house social worker which comes with very different challenges to pouring the perfect flat white, running a business and managing a team. I never understood how much stuff you’d go through each week, the weather turning can massively affect how much business you get!” Jonny is on a steep learning curve!
Portsmouth is a proudly independent city with lots of brands, shops and businesses taking root. Is it a welcoming city to start a business in?
“People are really receptive, the one thing we get a lot is that Commercial Road has been crying out for an independent coffee house – that’s been an overriding theme from our customer’s comments. People are grateful for a nice, warm and friendly environment on the road that they can come to with friends.”
“There are some amazing independents here – just down the road from us we have Canvas, they do fantastic coffee and have been very welcoming and lovely to us. I think the culture in Portsmouth for independents is that it’s not seen as competition, it’s seen as more like two fingers to the establishment!”
I can vouch for how many great brands we have in Portsmouth and Southsea, so it’s amazing to know that they’re all as welcoming as they seem on the surface.
“I think we’ve really noticed that there are lots of great opportunities to work together. It’s been great to get to know the local coffee community. We’ve had some great chats with the guys at Southsea Coffee (remember when I blogged about them?), some of the baristas came in and shared their experiences. They’ve also simply offered friendship which, for someone who is new to Portsmouth is just lovely. I’ve really appreciated getting to know the other independents out there. Strong Island have also been amazing and we share the same coffee bean roaster as Hunter Gatherer on Albert Road and they’ve been so helpful and encouraging. We get our bread from Bread Addiction who are a fantastic local artisan baker. The guys from Home Coffee have popped in for coffee. Everyone really supports each other and keeps an eye out for one another”
Of all of Harbour Coffee’s new friends, who does the best cup of coffee in Portsmouth?
“Aside from our own?! That’s really hard! I have to say Hunter Gatherer because we use the same beans.”
So the first month down, there are many more things to learn before they have their first Volition volunteers through in September. Jonny’s working on the menu, starting to experiment with different products (he’s developing a Kale smoothie at the moment), the team are amazing bakers so there’s always a different cake on offer.
I’ve been tipped off that a very exciting secret gig will be happening during the afternoon of the 4th March so it’s all go for the team at Harbour Coffee as part of a developing events series that’ll see the coffee shop play host to all sorts of guests.
Watch this space for more news on the Volition partnership in Portsmouth!