Interview: Well Grounded


For the past two years, Well Grounded has been busy connecting people: inspiring and upskilling individuals and generating work-related opportunities in its mission to provide a ‘talent pipeline’ for the coffee sector.

At the heart of this organisation is its founder Eve Wagg, who with her love of coffee embarked on a journey that is focused on changing lives for the better, by providing skills and openings for individuals whose talent hasn’t yet had the chance to sparkle.

Now she is planning to extend this ‘talent pipeline’ outside of Well Grounded’s current East London home in Tower Hamlets, firstly to London’s Kings Cross in the spring and then onto other major towns and cities across the UK. Areas where social deprivation, high unemployment and scant opportunities keep many gifted people hidden below the surface.

These are people who, as Wagg and the Well Grounded team are able to demonstrate, when given the right environment, support, training and opportunities, will blossom.

With 40,000 Barista jobs forecast to be vacant by 2023 and 1.4m unemployed people in the UK, Wagg’s ambition is to grow academies in locations where speciality coffee operators are opening and tap into the employment opportunities for the local communities. 

“I always had this idea about how coffee could connect with people who were experiencing some sort of disadvantage,” said Wagg, who gave up a career in the voluntary sector to test her idea in a pilot scheme with Ozone Coffee in 2015.

From the seeds of that first pilot, today’s fully-grown training programme focuses on five skill sets, served up to individuals on a nine-week course where technical and work skills are complemented by life-skills to enable employability and success.

“We’ve developed a curriculum based upon educational methodology, growth mindset and technical skills, along with work readiness and support. It links to the key strengths of resilience, self-awareness, confidence, teamwork collaboration and technical skills,” explains Wagg.

“It’s about allowing people to develop other strengths through learning about coffee. Research shows that it’s important to contextualise wider skills in order for them to be embedded, so we don’t just talk to people about feeling confident, but show them what it looks like when working in a busy café.”

Well Grounded’s HQ and training centre is based within the Spotlight Youth Academy centre at Poplar HARCA, an award-winning Social Housing Association in Langdon Park in London’s E14 postal area. Langdon Park is in ‘Lansbury Ward’, which falls within the top 20% of the most deprived areas of the country. It also has the highest unemployment rates in Tower Hamlets, with 20% of residents being long-term unemployed or whom have never worked.

With its training and network of more than 50 coffee companies, including Ozone, Notes, Harris + Hoole, PRESS and the big brands, such as Caffe Nero, Well Grounded is ever on the look-out for new partners and opportunities.

“First and foremost we look to develop talent for the industry. We work with a diverse group of people aged between 16 and 60, refugees, victims of modern slavery, people with mental health issues, young people who have never been employed or older people out of work and looking for a new career. There’s a huge demand for talent in this industry, which needs experienced baristas, and we find the people who have that talent.

“We’re creating coffee professionals.”

Take Sis, one trainee on the current nine-week course who retired after a 25-year career in housing management, only to find herself, aged 55, unemployable elsewhere. She’s learning about coffee with plans to open her own bespoke coffee house in Deptford where the coffee will be imported from local producers and farmers in the Caribbean. Or Stephen, who is seeking a more sensory experience and gaining skills to find work in a roastery. 

With 10 people applying for every place, there’s a huge demand for Well Grounded’s three courses. The one-day course is a taster session for anyone looking at a new career in coffee; who might just need some speciality coffee association tech skills connections and support with their CVS, and the flagship nine week course, which combines SCA tech skills with soft ‘work’ skills, plus a four-week placement at the end.

It costs £1,500 to transition someone from unemployed through training, mentorship, employment support and into sustained work, explains Wagg. With every one of the Well Grounded graduates provided with ongoing support, refresher training, social events, mentoring and more.

Funding is obtained through a variety of grants, which represent 40% of its income, with the rest coming through delivering private training and recruitment services to coffee companies.

To find the right individuals, Well Grounded spends a lot of time engaging with communities and getting them to try coffee, like the young football fan who Wagg met at event hosted by the Arsenal Foundation, an initiative by the football club to support youngsters who have fallen out of education.

“This one lad had never tried coffee before, but when he tasted it, you could see he saw something in it. Coffee has transformed him. He’s now a full-time barrister working in Clerkenwell,” she says.

Then there’s the refugee from Yemen, who went to work for Notes after completing her nine-week training course. What followed was a summer internment with the Rwanda Farmers Coffee Co and a Masters in Coffee Economics in Trieste, Italy, sponsored by Illy. She is now working for Falcon Coffee in quality control and speaks at United Nation’s conferences on post-conflict resolution in agriculture and supporting women in the coffee industry!

“Everyone needs a foot in the door. We pick people up and help unlock their potential. They can finish up working in a roastery, wholesale, marketing or running their own coffee cart. People end up in the right work solution for them,” says Wagg, who is keen to point out that none of it could have happened without the amazing support she and her team of five at Well Grounded have received from individuals and companies within the industry.

“We have an incredible board and advisory team and a community of great people from employers to industry people –  La Marzocco, Ozone, Notes, Soho House, British Airways, UBS and Lloyds too.”

And in just two years’ Well Grounded has given 161 people access to training, got more 82 people into work, education or further training, 103 have gained SCA-accredited training with 50 employers hiring its graduates.

Leeds, Sheffield, Glasgow and Bristol are all on Well Grounded’s hit-list. “Bristol isn’t probably an area people think of as having high levels of unemployment or disadvantage, but every community in the UK does. Our value is that we unlock the potential of people and connect communities, so in areas where there’s a growth of speciality coffee, we can make sure that the communities living there are accessing their jobs and are visiting them and enjoying their service.”

Well Grounded is planning to establish five academies within the next five years, with each academy working with 100 individuals annually, creating opportunities for 500 people a year.

This article was commissioned and published by Beverage Business World (Quinic Events).

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