24 July 2019

Midway down Tottenham Court Road stands a symbol of London. A tube station; a Leslie Green classic that announces itself in oxblood terracotta brick. Goodge Street station. But look closer. A table and two chairs sit outside, and there's a small window in the facade. Through that window lies a heartwarming social enterprise project, Change Please.

According to TfL, roughly 25,000 people enter or exit Goodge Street on weekdays. We're willing to bet that plenty of them don't blink twice at Change Please. Just a few square metres wide, it demonstrates just how much space is at a premium in London today. A commuter breaks line and pops up to the counter to order a coffee. And another follows a minute later. And again. Seems plenty of people do know about this place.

"Now I'm happy, I'm working full-time" 

Marco Ocampo does service with a smile. He knows all the Goodge Street regulars. The tube workers in their bright red 'Here to help' tabards. The guy at the fruit and veg stall outside the station. And everyone else who stops by Change Please.

People like Marco are at the heart of Change Please, a small chain of (often mobile) coffee shops across London, set up by The Big Issue and Comic Relief. The company hires, trains and supports members of London's homeless community, in a bid to tackle the capital's homelessness crisis.

It wasn't so long ago that Marco was homeless. His story echoes many others reported today — precipitated by a separation from his partner. He'd moved to London from Colombia years ago, but suddenly found himself cut adrift from the system, with nowhere to live for a couple of months. He fell into a state of depression.

Marco heard about Ace of Clubs near Clapham Common — a charity that provides support for the homeless community — and started attending mainly as a place to get a hot lunch. He was introduced to the team from Change Please. They offered to train him up as a barista, gave him a 40 hour-a-week job that pays London Living Wage, and help him find accommodation. They also gave him support to try and tackle the downturn in his mental health. Marco beams: "Now I'm happy, I'm working full-time".

"London needs more enterprises like this"

As I sip my latte — expertly crafted by Marco — in the beating sun, he eulogises about Change Please. "I think London needs more enterprises like this," he tells me. Something certainly needs to be done. Since 2010 homelessness has doubled in the UK, and Marco is still intimately aware of the community. Every day he gives free hot drinks to the local homeless.

Marco's risen quickly through the ranks at Change Please. He now trains other baristas, just at the start of the journey he was on less than a year ago. He's so personable, it's easy to see that he's well suited to such a role. The coffee that he's training them to make is Change Please's own blend, sold in stores up and down the country. Featured on the packaging are formerly homeless baristas, now employed by the brand. Their stories are written on here too, and a percentage from the sales goes back to the baristas.

As I slurp down the rest of my coffee, I wonder what it is that makes Change Please so special to Marco. "It's a family!" he exclaims.

Change Please has locations at Goodge Street Station, Clapham Common Station, Borough Market, Canary Wharf, Here East, London Bridge and New Oxford Street. You can buy Change Please coffee from national chains such as Sainsbury's.

Source: Londonist