Finding Bright Spots in Highly Divisive Issues

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I sat down to write a summary of key learning taken from Friday’s Faith in Action workshop and yet before I do that (in my next post) I want to share with you the manner that workshop played into a deeper story of learning that was going of for me last week. This learning (or re-learning) began when scrolling through pictures from the recent White Ribbon Clergy Oath. I was confronted among these images to see the face of a man signing the pledge whose opinions of women have left me feeling quite victimised.  It was painful for me to see because I suspected that this particular individual was seeing this pledge as a promise not to physically hit a woman while not recognising that a culture that subordinates women is a culture in which violence can survive.  Or to quote Victoria’s chief commissioner, Ken Lay, in a recent guardian article on domestic violence:

“…attitudes show that we perceive women differently than men and by differently I mean we perceive them as less valuable. In order to stop a problem we have to tackle the cause.”

Inwardly just seeing this image caused quite a violent response in me that was still not quelled by speaking with a friend who challenged me that I must celebrate the small steps and that this signing of the pledge offered us an opportunity for the broader and deeper conversation. I was challenged again the following day, however, at Friday’s Faith in Action event as we looked at discovering the opportunities and gifts we may be missing from refugees and other minority groups in our communities.  Brad Chilcott (of Activate Church and Welcome to Australia) challenged us to appreciate the polarities in people.  When speaking of the opposition he has faced for allowing those politicians who have openly supported policies that have marginalised refugee communities to none the less stand side by side with him at the front of the Walk Together events; Brad said he chose to start with the areas of congruence and invite dialogue from there instead of taking a purely adversarial approach.

“We need to celebrate and amplify the light”   -Brad Chilcott

This is much like the principle of “Bright Spots” that I try to espouse in Community Development.  Rather than fighting against what is broken we can often gain a lot more energy and momentum by finding those (even small) spots of goodness and then work to amplify, celebrating and duplicating those. Brad spoke about his desire to provide a positive voice within a highly divisive issue, calling out the best in Australia and to begin the conversation with powerful questions such as:

“How would you like your home to be described?”

So I am challenged anew to consider how to balance a strong stance against language, behaviour and attitudes that create a culture that allows for marginaisation and still work in community with those who demonstrate these poor behaviours, language and attitudes by finding those places of congruence (those “bright spots”) from which to begin a relational discussion.

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Discovering Hidden Opportunities

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Can our pity for the stranger actually get in the way of us loving them?

This is the thought that has been making a home in my mind this week. In the lead up to Christmas I witness a lot of people who feel especially sorry for those “less fortunate than them” at a time that many people experience as a joyful one.  This is understandable and commendable and the result is a lot of charity.

Talking to a colleague this week I expressed a concern that this pity shown to a stranger at Christmas did not seem to often equate to a more concerted effort to befriend people experiencing disadvantage during the year.  If it did so then, come Christmas, we would be able to provide support to a friend rather than charity to a stranger.

She challenged me that love for the stranger is a very humble and Biblical behaviour.  So I am happy to concede I could be wrong.  Feel free to contribute your thoughts in the comments below and in the meantime I will continue to ponder…

One thing I am sure of, however, is:
We must not let our feelings of pity get in the way of recognising, calling out and celebrating the gifts people have to contribute to our community.

Looking past the labels (poor, disabled, refugee) and considering the gifts (poet, chef, priest) is an important and ongoing exercise for all of us in community.

This Friday we (Faith in Action) will be running a workshop on discovering the opportunities and gifts we may be missing from refugees and other minority groups in our communities.  I am looking forward to work shopping this with some individuals who are highly committed to and participating in this very work.

There is still space to join us if this interests you:

Details:  Friday 28th November 2014

  • 10-12noon Presentations and Discussion with speakers
  • 12-1pm Conversation over shared lunch
  • 1-3pm What principles are operating here and how might we apply them in our ministry setting?
  • Venue – The Welcome Centre  100 Drayton Street, Bowden – the corner of Drayton Street and Hawker Street (look for the Activate SA building!)

More info HERE

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Do They Know it’s Christmas? (Learning from Bob Geldolf’s mistakes)

MDG : Africa Stop Ebola song : iken Jah Fakoly and Salif Keita working in studio

Over the last week my Facebook feed has featured a number of articles criticising the most recent “Band-Aid 30” version of “Do the know it’s Christmas?”.  The criticisms have hit on a number of faults including inaccuracy of lyrics (ie. there will be plenty of water and snow in Africa this Christmas) as well as inciting African nationals who have received it as patronising and a perpetuation of negative stereotypes of Africa.

For me one of the most significant criticism is that it undermines the efforts of native African singers who have already produced a song to raise funds for the same purpose: Africa Stop Ebola – Tiken Jah Fakoly, Amadou & Mariam, Salif Keita, Oumou Sangare and others.  Geldolf and others involved in Band Aid could have used their influence to promote this song and see funds flowing back into Africa in two ways!

Seeing this once again got me thinking about the nature of aid and community work both internationally and locally.  Especially as we come up to Christmas time!  Christmas is a time when charities are often struggling to find room for all the good-willed people wanting to help and to off load their well-meaning goods (which charities need all year long but for which Christmas often provides a flood for the struggling resource drought throughout the rest of the year)

The good news is that we can learn from Bob’s mistakes:

  1. We can learn that when our efforts to provide charity undermine (by their timing, volume or nature) the capacity or willingness of individuals or communities to respond to crisis themselves then we are doing more harm than good.
  2. We can learn that both in Australia and internationally the best recovery and development projects come from the communities themselves.  And we can learn to support communities in this work- economically, by facilitation and through advocacy.
  3. We can learn to watch our language!  Language that evokes pity, stereotypes and labels is not helpful.  It dis-empowers, undermines accountability and creates a self-fullfilling prophecy (as most communities live up to their reputations)- my favourite article on this is called “Aiding is Abetting”.

So as Christmas approaches I’m asking you to write these rules on your heart.

And if I might- suggesting a few little ways of doing it differently:

  1. Why not, instead of volunteering in a Soup Kitchen this Christmas, befriend someone who is struggling and have a meal together in which you all contribute in some way?
  2. Instead of packing a box of toys made in sweatshops in Asia and sending it to a struggling economy in Africa why not purchase something made by an African women’s co-operative as a gift for a loved one thereby helping that mother buy her own gift for her child this Christmas.
  3. Build a strong community- get to know your neighbours.  Resilient communities are the best poverty fighting tool we have.
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Community Strengths and Weaknesses- two sides of the same coin?

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Yesterday I had a lovely drive through the Adelaide Hills to visit the leaders of the Baptist Church at Gumeracha.  So far this would have to be the prettiest Baptist Church I have visited particularly as I found it yesterday; surrounded by the bright green new growth of the mulberry trees.

One of the things that struck me from my conversation with the leaders was how a communities strengths and weaknesses can so often be two sides of the same coin.

And this strength/weakness coin often represents the uniqueness of the community.  Gumeracha is an easy 20 minute drive from the northern suburbs of Adelaide and yet is nestled in the hills among a cluster of small townships with a very rural identity.

Behind the church is a crumbling old cemetery.  Across the road is a place called the “circle of oaks”.  In the centre of this circle was once an old well in which the Church conducted baptisms.  Home to medieval fairs and harvest festivals ….I felt as though I may have stepped into the English Cotswolds (of the kind shown in BBC murder mystery shows).

While many Churches are struggling to overcome their apparent “old-world” relevance in a era that demands modernity- here is a Church with the opportunity to embrace quaintness with all the bake sales and fetes it desires.  Many people commute from Gumeracha into the suburbs or city but they chose to live in the community for its rural, quaint village feel.

I asked the Church leaders:

What is it that makes your community unique?  What about your Christmas festival or harvest blessing are distinctly “Gumeracha”?  And considering that- what unique role does this Church have to play in that unique community?

Just as I did with Gumeracha I would like to encourage you to reconsider your own community.  Try to see it as a visitor.  What might you have been painting as negative elements that might also represent the uniqueness and strength of your community?

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The benefits of starting with strengths (from the Surrender and 4D Conferences)

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On Friday I ran a small workshop at the Adelaide Surrender Conference and then on Saturday I ran it again with a larger group at the SA Baptist Churches annual 4D conference.

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Looking at a fictional town we did independent maps/exegesis of the needs and asset of the community.  Sharing these with one another, we considered how using these different approaches might affect the approach we took.  For example both groups determined that a needs map is far more likely to elicit a programmatic approach and the provision of external resources.

In his book Toxic Charity Robert Lupton’s research concludes that:

Giving to those in need what they could be gaining from their own initiative may well be the kindest way to destroy people

By comparison participants at the 4D conference offered the following comments on the difference taking an asset based approach makes:

•It empowers people
•It recognises people as experts in their own lives
•It celebrates people
•It doesn’t jump in with programs to meet needs
•It gets the people in need helping to create the solution
•It is loving of others
•It begins with curiosity, questions and listening
•It starts where you are
•It uses strengths and gifts
•It invites people to contribute
•It puts relationships first
•It is not reliant on dollars
•It promotes joy

Do you agree?  What else would you add to this list?

Thanks to all who participated both at Surrender and 4D.  I really enjoyed working with you.

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Celebrating strength in recovery at Clovercrest Baptist Church

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The following is a story from The Recovery Community at Clovercrest Baptist Church shared with me by Suz Foley.

Suz says…

Celebrating recovery is not meant to be a course we do or a programme we run. It’s joy in finding freedom and ultimately new life in Jesus.

There are many ups and downs in recovery, and wherever a group of people meet together, there are relationships to manage and grow. Forgiveness is needed by us all on a daily basis. As we hope and believe in the new life Jesus promised, we see beautiful things happen and people become strong and begin to flourish in their gifts.

For example, because so many people in our group are highly creative, musically and artistically, we decided to run an art exhibition at a city venue. At our opening event, our main goal was to show off our people- to let others see how much God has gifted them, and how hard they have worked to overcome their difficult circumstances.

7 artists presented 53 pieces showing their perception of self in their recovery from addiction or mental health issues but it was not a night of highlighting needs but of recognising skills, God given, and appreciating unique points of view that are creatively communicated.

We entertained “Recovery Style” too; homemade fingerfood and cunningly delicious mocktails. (We find that we are having to educate churches in the need for abstinent social occasions for the sake of people who are working on their recovery.) So we used our people’s creativity in the catering as well.It was a terrific night, a fabulous celebration of kingdom life.

Many artworks were sold, raising money for the Recovery Community, and earning some income for our artists.

Last Sunday at a Recovery Church service (a place where people in our group have the opportunity for key contribution and ownership of a service) the guest speaker told the group of 30 people gathered that, of all the services at our church, it was the Recovery Service he most wanted to be at. His only surprise was that the whole church wasn’t there, after all the Bible clearly tells us that we are all recovering people. A voice called out, ‘we’re just the honest ones!’

Thanks Suz, perhaps we all need to be a bit more honest: we are all a collection of needs and addictions and gifts and creativity. And so is every person we meet. And that should both humble and inspire us.

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Discovering the hidden opportunities of refugees and other minority groups

Faith in Action is looking forward to a longer conversation with our supporters about what it takes to work well alongside refugees and other disadvantaged communities.  Come to  a deep conversation with those who are making a difference to this topic.

Brad ChilcottPastor Brad Chilcott (Welcome to Australia) Brad Chilcott started Welcome to Australia in June 2011 seeking to create a positive voice in the public conversation around asylum seeking, refugees and multiculturalism.  More about Welcome to Australia

Bryan HughesBryan Hughes (Baptist Care Fuse Mentor Coordinator) Bryan oversees the Baptist Care Fuse Mentoring program providing opportunities for friendships to be built with people settling into Australia. More about Fuse Mentoring

Sarah WilliamsonSarah Williamson (Uniting Church Social Justice Officer Synod SA) As the Uniting Church Justice Officer Sarah has a sense that congregations have more to contribute to this issue in South  Australia.  Sarah’s most recent work for the Synod has been suicide prevention.  More about Suicide – it is no secret

Richard HarmerRichard Harmer (Holos Group) Richard brings insights into what it takes to get groups to respond to the so called ‘wicked problems’ of our generation.  More about Richard’s previous work with us.

The morning conversation will be getting into a deep conversation with each of the presenters about their projects. After lunch we will ask ourselves how might we apply their principles into our ministry settings.

Details:  Friday 28th November 2014

  • 10-12noon Presentations and Discussion with speakers
  • 12-1pm Conversation over shared lunch
  • 1-3pm What principles are operating here and how might we apply themin our ministry setting?
  • Venue – The Welcome Centre  100 Drayton Street, Bowden – the corner of Drayton Street and Hawker Street (look for the Activate SA building!)
Posted in Events, Faith in Action | 1 Comment

An illustration of Community Development using Luke 17:11-19

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Language is a tricky thing and one of the stumbling blocks over recent weeks, for me, has been the use of the terms “community engagement/outreach” and “community development”.

So I wanted to spend a moment demonstrating what I understand to be the unique work of  community development by pushing the exegetical limits of the story we read in Luke 17:11-19 of Jesus and the 10 lepers.

I would like to start by suggest that if this is a story of community engagement through a service activity- then it is a failure.

Community engagement is about us making connections with people around us that grow our sense of cohesiveness and connectivity and promote future working together.  A successful community engagement activity could be measured by continued or increased participation by engaged parties with a program or wider network of programs.  Perhaps as a result of participating in one program, and feeling safe and welcome there, an engaged community member may chose to participate in another program or consider how they might become more connected with or involved with the “engaging” community.  Eg.  Someone might come to our Church Cafe and as a result of feeling welcome there they might chose not only to return but also to join our craft group… who knows they might even join us on a Sunday?

Despite an unarguably excellent level of service provided by Jesus, of the 10 individuals who experienced healing on this occasion- only one returns.  In community engagement terms that is a pretty poor success rate.

However if the activity that Jesus is involved in is one of development rather than engagement/outreach then he has experienced great success.

Community Development can be measured by fullness-of-life measures.  As a result of our ongoing interaction are people better off in terms of having lives that are richer, fuller and more connected with community? Are people moving from places of striving to places where they are able to thrive as full contributors in the continued betterment of their communities?

All of those 10 individuals who came to Jesus left experiencing lives that were richer and fuller because they had removed from their lives the most significant barrier to community connection and contribution.  They were now able to be not only full participants in their communities but contributors towards further bettering those communities.

Of course this kind of life transforming community development usually takes longer than a single encounter but is a deliberate and significant work over many years.  And, as with the story of the 10 lepers, it is rarely a task for which we receive thanks (mostly in our case because, unlike Jesus, this development process is a slow one of 2 steps forward and 1 step backwards).  It is also a lot harder to measure success because it requires us to consider complex ways of determining outcomes rather than just counting numbers of people turning up.

The fruit of community engagement may be that a growing number of people attend a program or service (and potentially are better for that experience) but the fruit of community development is measured in lives transformed from situations of isolation and striving to places of mutual contribution.

Posted in Theology, What is ABCD? | Leave a comment

Looking for a Cafe Alternative?

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I wrote a couple of weeks ago about Café Ministries in Churches and the creative potential of these ministries within the café-obsessed Australian culture. I have personally been involved in the business development of two social enterprise cafes and have visited many others.

As great as Café Ministries are I think it is very important (as with any ministry) that we keep our focus on the objective/purpose of the ministry rather than focusing on the program.

Think of it in this way: on the 19th of January 2012 commercial giant Kodak filed for bankruptcy. In five years the company had gone from having a product in almost every American home to near obsolescence due to the advent of digital photography and camera phones. Arguably Kodak had taken its eye off the objective by remaining focused on the product. Photography was Kodak’s business and people had not stopped taking photos but while people kept taking photos Kodak kept focusing on film.

It can be the same in our Churches; we can remain so focused on a program that we love that we cease to determining if it is still the best way to achieve the ministry outcome that we want.

So, as promised, today I want to look at alternatives to café ministries- not because café’s are not good ministries but because we should always put the purpose before the program. Before starting a café or any other program we should always start with the outcome and work towards the program rather than the other way around.

So let’s look at the three café style ministries I spoke about in my last post and consider what outcomes they are trying to achieve.

The volunteer run community space

Possible outcomes of this model might be one or multiple of the following:
One possible alternative to achieve this outcome might be:

  • To provide an inexpensive meal for people on low incomes in the community.
    Community meals where people come and cook an inexpensive meal together (potentially facilitated by people with more experience in doing this).
  • To provide an accessible non-threatening space within the Church building that the community might feel safe to enter and interact with Church volunteers
    Craft groups of the past have had a similar success in this area, but where they have failed is in members of the congregation making meaningful use of this opportunity. In any such social activity space you must consider how the real objective of meaningful connection will actually be achieved.
  • To provide a café experience for those previously less welcome in this space (homeless people, people with disabilities, people physically isolated because of distance from other spaces like this)
    “Conversation Café” models or similar opportunities to extend hospitality and facilitate conversations do not require you to run a café but could easily be hosted in a local community café (or hospital café in the case of a “death café”)

The training and experience café

The primary outcome of this model was to provide training and support for people struggling to find pathways into training, mentoring and ultimately the workforce.
Why not have a chat with your local job network provider (JSA) and find out the job area of most interest to its clients but where they are struggling to find placements or training. When we asked a similar question at Marion we discovered the answer was administration not hospitality. But this is likely to be different in your area.

The fundraising initiative

Whether it is run after a Church service on a Sunday or during the week for the community the objective here is obviously to raise funds for either the Church or a charitable organisation(s) the Church is passionate about. In many ways this is modern day bake sale.
If you have the business minded people in your congregation necessary to making this a success considering brainstorming with them what sort of business venture would inspire them the most, what they have experience in.  It may not be a cafe, in fact in one experience I had this resulted in a number of much smaller business ventures rather than one large one.

Now of course none of these alternatives are perfect either. Nor are they exhaustive.  They are simply meant to represent a moment of focusing on the outcome not the program.  As I said at the top, café’s are a great ministry opportunity but as with any ministry the program should always be the slave of the purpose and not the other way around.

If you would like to talk through a café (or any other) venture by either evaluating a current program or looking at establishing a new initiative please feel free to contact me – I would very much like to speak with you (and there is not onus for you to take on any of what I say- I’m all support, no responsibility!)

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So You Want to Start a Church Café?

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Apologies in advance for a long post today.  It is the result of a throw away comment I made (and I immediately regretted) when sharing at a conference over the weekend. When sharing about my new role I said;

“Please don’t talk to me if you want to set up a café”.

I was joking of course; and immediately said so.

Those who know me better would probably argue that there is some truth in my “joke” which stems from my disappointment when Churches and agencies desire to duplicate rather than create. In fact over my short 2 months in this role I have spoken to no less than TEN Churches who either have, are in the process of establishing, or who are desiring to establish café programs/ministries.

NONE THE LESS I also appreciate the creative potential of cafés within the café-obsessed Australian culture. I have personally been involved in the business development of two social enterprise cafes and have visited many others.

For this reason it seemed to timely to revisit an earlier post on the potential and possibilities of social enterprise cafes as a part of Church ministries. I want to do this by taking a look at some of the common forms that Church cafés take and the strengths and challenges that each present.

Most of the cafés run by Churches and agencies that I have come into contact with have fallen roughly into one or a number of the following 3 models:

The volunteer run community space

These cafés provide an inexpensive café experience either for low income people or more generally a link between the community at large and the Church community. They provide a friendly, relaxed place for the community to meet and are often set up by Churches in areas where limited other such places are available or affordable. Often they partner “Conversation Café” models or similar opportunities to extend hospitality and facilitate conversations so that those previously socially isolated can participate in the café as a first connection point with a new community.

The strength of this model from a community development framework is that it provides what community building experts call a “third space”, particularly for those previously isolate from other such spaces. Ray Oldenburg in his influential book The Great Good Place argues that communities need “third spaces” in order to establish true society, democracy, creativity and engagement with one another. This café model fulfils this role when it provides:

  • Inexpensive food and drink
  • High accessibility: in walkable proximate for many
  • A place encouraging “regulars” – those who habitually congregate there
  • An intentionally welcoming and comfortable environment
  • Intention work to develop both new friends and old.

The challenge of this model is after the initial spark of enthusiasm for creating this project has rubbed off it is often quite a challenge to staff this kind of café. As the community begins to get used to the café the work increases and often volunteers get worn out. Volunteers are often older and running a café requires them to be on their feet for long periods of time. Rostering, ordering and troubleshooting take a lot of effort and are often also performed by a less experienced, low-paid or volunteer co-ordinator. Remember that the average commercial café is staffed by young paid staff (with lots of energy) and co-ordinated by full time salaried managers; often with qualifications and experience in business. It should therefore not be a surprise if we are struggling to keep pace with this standard in terms of staffing, speed and quality (even if not prepared by chefs most meals in franchised cafes are at least initially designed by them).

The training and experience café

Increasing in popularity is this second model: either by design or because, in the recruiting for volunteers for the previous model, co-ordinators are discovering that many volunteers approaching them are coming from Centrelink or Job Network Providers (JSAs). These cafes may purposely target groups of people struggling to find pathways into the workforce- the long term unemployed, people newly arrived to Australia, or other people groups who may experience disadvantage entering the workforce. Buddy or mentoring programs (whether formal or informal) are often coupled with this model.

The strength of this model is obviously in its capacity to creatively and relationally meet a community need in a manner that is empowering of the individual experiencing disadvantage. Additional advantage can be added to this model when it is combined with auspiced training from TAFE (or another such institution) and strong relationships with commercial cafes who can take on these trained up volunteers if and when they have completed their training/ proven themselves reliable of your recommendation. This model can also attract funding as a social service and if marketed well this work can encourage greater community buy-in and participation.

The challenge of this model is primarily linked to the fact that those experiencing disadvantage due to long term or generation unemployment/disadvantage often have not had the opportunity to learn the disciplines that make for productive and high-functioning volunteers/learners. This creates significantly more work for the volunteer co-ordinator. These cafés require a co-ordinator, therefore, that does not only have high organisational skills but also very high interpersonal skills and experience working with disadvantaged groups. It is often highly challenging to find a volunteer or someone on a lower wage to staff this demanding role.  Volunteers/learners in this model participate for shorter periods of time and the higher turnover of volunteers require more constant work on the team culture and more time spent on volunteer/learner recruitment.

The fundraising initiative

The third model I have seen is a purely commercial venture that generates funds towards another socially motivated cause just as a second-hand clothing store might. In fact I have seen a number of these ventures (including one of my personal favourites in Adelaide) which couple a small scale café and second hand clothing or second hand bookstore. With no additional social component these cafes are able to run as pure business ventures.

The strength of this model is that, while the previous models try to balance their books while keeping prices down and dealing with complex issues such as volunteer management (sometimes an impossible task), this model is free to pursue a purely commercial interest while generating funds towards pure mission/social work. Keeping business and community development separate certainly has its merits. Staffing is easier because you are only recruiting for business acumen and not also community development understanding.

The challenges of this model are also commercial. Often the individuals wanting to seed this venture are not business minded but socially minded. A qualified business manager really does need to be engaged to ensure the venture maintains long-term viability. As I mentioned earlier; all these ventures are competing with commercial cafés whose managers are trained in business and motivated by the personal benefit of profit (which does not exist in this model). The space we use is also a significant consideration- I would seriously recommend considering finding an external commercial space. Second hand clothing shops are increasingly required to pay commercial council rates even when situated on Church property. Likewise a proposed commercial café venture would have to be carefully worked through with a local council development team. It would be unfair to local café owners for you to benefit from lower taxes, rates and rent while making a profit at their expense even if that profit is directed towards a worthy cause. The previous non-commercial models are often required to charge half of retail price for their goods in order to avoid income tax, commercial rates etc but as a commercial venture you will not be able to sustain this costing if you intend to pay staff and commercial overheads.


While cafés as social enterprises have incredible potential they can also represent significantly hard work. They can also represent a reliance on a program rather than a purpose. For this reason I will write a follow up post addressing how similar ends can be worked towards through means other than a café.

If you would like to talk through a café venture (either evaluating a current program or looking at establishing a new initiative) please feel free to contact me. In contrast to my throw-away comment on the weekend- I would very much like to speak with you.

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