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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Cafe Arlington: more than tea and sympathy?

July 10 2009
The first of four planned coffee shops offers rough sleepers a route back to work There's no shortage of coffee houses in Soho, but a new addition serves more than fancy moccacinos. Café Arlington is an initiative offering rough sleepers a route back to work. It is the first of four planned coffee shops to open its doors to the public, with the others due over the next six months, and is the brainchild of the social enterprise organisation Novas.

Café Arlington (sounding slightly better if pronounced in a French accent whilst gesturing in the air) is situated at one end of Dean Street, like a Soho bookend, holding together restaurants for the rich, trendy bars for the designer-scruffy and a smattering of strip joints. The aims and benefits of it are twofold: first, the café will offer paid employment opportunities to homeless people across England, with a pledge that 50 per cent of the staff employed within the chain will be graduates of this scheme.

Secondly, profits made will be reinvested into Novas' services to increase access to education, work and more training initiatives for the homeless and other socially excluded individuals.

Olu Emmanuel, 22 years old, from London, is a full-time employee at the flagship shop in Soho. It was during his work experience at the Novas headquarters that Emmanuel heard about the possible job at Café Arlington. He filled out the application, anticipating that it would fall at the first hurdle, typical of his job hunting experience as an ex-offender: "I can't tell you how many job applications I have filled out over the past year, but when they hear you have a criminal record they just don't want to know".

Much to his surprise, Emmanuel was invited for an interview and a subsequent phone call confirmed he had the job, "I was so happy", he beams. Training commenced one week before the doors opened for business. Staff were put through their health and safety, food hygiene and customer care paces. Once the theory was out of the way, they were let loose on a whole plethora of coffee machines. The new employees were trained on all aspects of running a coffee shop. "This means," Emmanuel said, "that each day we are in charge of something different - one day you're on the tills, the next on the coffee machines and another day you might be clearing tables and cleaning the kitchen."

When asked what was best about having a full-time job he mentioned numerous things, such as being able put money aside for a pending shopping spree (as a 22-year-old, being decked out in the right gear is very important), and the fact that he could even afford to socialise after covering his rent. However, Emmanuel added, "I have made my mum really proud of me and, oh," he pauses, "I can have as much free coffee as I want!"