“This place has changed me, it’s helped me become a better person.” The words of one young barista who’s taken up a job in a Belfast coffee shop with a difference. The Thinking Cup on the Lisburn Road isn’t just focussed on serving up hot beverages and treats – its agenda, writes Ashley Jackson, is to reduce the rate of re-offending in the city.
So how does it work?
Director Roger Warnock describes it as “a globally unique” idea. The aim, he says, is to create new opportunities for people who have been recently released from prison. And the statistic that drives those behind the Thinking Cup is that 60% of children whose parents offend – are likely to become offenders themselves.
“They come in here,” Roger explains, “with very little self esteem, not sure what’s going to happen – they’ve had a prison sentence. So when they’re offered a job in a safe environment there’s structure back in their lives.”
The programme lasts for a year – providing staff skills and training for former offenders – helping participants become more employable at the end of the 12 months.
Jim, the first employee of the project, was convicted and imprisoned for a robbery at a filling station – now he’s running the Book Reserve. It’s a cosy space upstairs that has been set up as a second hand bookshop.
Jim’s role is to grow the book business, which also creates online revenue through Amazon and Ebay. And he attributes The Thinking cup project to a turnaround in his life.
“It’s helping us progress as people, employees and as a business. We’re able to say – that guy believes in me, I must have it and take that forward.”
And so coffee and books combine with the aim of creating a safer Belfast. Now if that’s not coffee with a difference, I don’t know what is.