Local Heroes is a series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, and next up is Redemption Roasters, the world’s first prison-based coffee company that’s on a mission to reduce re-offending rates in the UK by training prisoners in coffee skills and working with them after release.
Founders Max Dubiel and Ted Rosner initially started running a coffee wholesale business in 2015 but the pair really wanted to build a “brand which had a meaningful story to tell and could deliver real social impact.” According to Max, “after a chance encounter with the Ministry of Justice at a coffee trade show, which was looking for industry partners to deliver barista training in prisons, the idea for Redemption Roasters was born in 2017.”
By helping prisoners learn a skill and find work, Redemption Roasters is working to tackle the high rates of re-offending the UK – ex-offenders are 50% less likely to reoffend if they leave prison with skills and a job – and also challenging the misconception that prisoners don’t want to reintegrate into society. “For the most part, offenders and ex- offenders want to come clean, establish a regular life again with a routine that involves a regular job and income with friends and family that are not in crime,” says Max. ” We roast all of our coffee at HMP The Mount. We train offenders and ex-offenders in coffee skills with the aim of getting them into employment, either in one of our own shops (currently eight shops in central London) or with our industry partners.”
It’s no surprise that operating inside a prison comes with its fair share of logistical difficulties. “Dealing with prison bureaucracy and unforeseen daily regime changes present a challenge to our staff. Every delivery and pick-up needs to be searched and escorted to our workshop. New staff members must undergo rigorous security vetting, sometimes taking weeks or months,” explains Max. “We work with specialised logistics companies, and have spent years coming up with workarounds and processes which allow us to operate a facility without Wifi, mobile phones and mechanical tools. And that’s not to mention time spent on prison-related tasks by non-production or education staff in accounts, wholesale, the directors etc. Overall, working in prisons is not easy, but it’s why our company exists!”
All that hard work is certainly worth it; one of Redemption Roasters’ biggest success stories has been James, who they first met at HMYOI Aylesbury. For Max, “it was obvious from the very beginning that James was meant to be in the coffee industry. His passion for coffee from end-to-end set him apart, and he often took out books from the prison’s library to study before and after workshop hours. He eventually hand-wrote and illustrated a 60-page book on all that he had learned.” After James was released in October 2019 he landed a full-time role at New Ground, a roastery that also employs ex-offenders, and is now Head Roaster at the company.
One of Max’s goals for the next year is to expand Redemption Roasters’ training capabilities so they can provide more people like James to reach their potential. As he says, “we currently working with unemployed young men and women who are classified ‘at risk’. We train them in our community coffee school for a week and refer them into employment (either in our own shops or with one of our partners) afterwards.” And talking of shops, growing those numbers is also on the agenda; by the end of 2021 Redemption Roasters will boast nine locations and there are at least three more on the cards for 2022.
As Max is passionate about helping people find employment, he wants to shout out Beam, a social enterprise that they recently started working with, that “combines crowdfunding with the social aim of getting homeless people off the street, intro training leading into a paid job and housing.”