Commemorating 100 years of Council Housing in Derby with Sacred Bean Coffee

What does coffee have to do with council housing? Good question. Derby Homes and Derby City Council are working with Sacred Bean Coffee to produce a special coffee blend to commemorate 100 Years of Council Housing.

Mike Ainsley, Chair of Derby Homes and Councillor Roy Webb, Cabinet member for Adults Health and Housing, spent a morning roasting coffee and learning how Sacred Bean is helping ex-offenders and people overcoming addiction to find purpose, belonging and the structure they need to make positive, sustainable change in their lives.

The idea to work with Sacred Bean came about through a connection with Revd Darren Howie who previously visited Derby Homes as a chaplain of St Peters Church. Darren is very open about his past as a former heroin addict who was involved in crime, but he managed turned his life around through a Christian rehabilitation programme.

His first job out of prison as part of his rehabilitation was in a coffee shop, where he developed a love for coffee and the ethics of the coffee-growing process. At the time he was a priest researching and critiquing the criminal justice system. He learned that belonging and contribution are key factors in overcoming addiction and that recovery was about much more than giving someone a home and a job. He saw a parallel between people and the coffee seed (bean), both being full of potential and how under the right conditions they can develop into something far beyond their original form.

Darren started experimenting with roasting coffee whilst still at St Peters church working on the Inside Out project, an initiative that connects men and women leaving prison and resettling to Derby. Now working the Derby Methodist circuit, Darren still maintains a strong partnership with Inside Out.

Darren: “I set the machine up in the chancel and the smell would fill the whole church. People thought it was incense and that gave me the idea that both individuals and coffee beans are sacred. There’s a connectedness to something greater, a higher purpose.”

After a lot of practice roasts, Sacred Bean coffee started growing organically and has gone beyond just “roasting coffee with a few mates” to being registered as a Community Interest Company. Darren is looking into funding to provide training and qualifications in health and hygiene, first aid and areas to develop people’s coffee roasting and barista skills.

Darren: “We take an asset-based approach, whereby we work to develop the assets of people and communities. People don’t just learn from us. They learn from each other and learn that they can contribute to the learning of others, the development of the business and the community they live in. We’re currently looking for premises to expand the work we already do.”

Much of the work Darren does builds on his personal experiences and existing links with organisations that support people recovering from addiction or leaving the prison system. This can involve helping people into housing and accessing other related services. Some supported housing services require tenants to undertake some voluntary work as a condition of their agreement. Sacred Bean can help provide an option for voluntary work that provides more than just a few hours of work a week.

Darren: “We already have links with other mentoring organisations. Volunteering with Sacred Bean can help provide the belonging that’s vital to their recovery. We all have a weekly meal together. It’s written into the contract. It helps to bring the community together and build a culture. Our sessions also help to combat loneliness. We involve our neighbours and even people outside of the recovery/justice system who may simply have no one to talk to.”

Moving forward, Darren is bringing his focus back to the ethics surrounding coffee that he first became aware of back in the coffee shop he started out in.

Darren: “My faith background means I’m led to consider Sacred Bean not in isolation, but in its connectedness to the rest of the world. Society is fragmented and whatever direction the company goes in, it needs to consider what it can contribute and what its impact will be. It’s a social business that contributes economic benefits in the form of skills and employability, but we also need to look at our ecological impact. We’re no longer buying conventional beans to roast, having found a good supplier for ethical, fairly traded varieties. I see our future in direct sourcing and forming a direct relationship with growers and supporting them to develop their business and fulfil their potential. We’re also looking at options for environmentally responsible packaging.

Ultimately, our focus always has a spiritual element, whether that’s religious or otherwise. People are encouraged to reflect on their own purpose and identity. We’re all a part of something bigger than ourselves. It’s easy for any of us to become disconnected from others and our community and ask: who am I?

Our aim is to try to restore those connections, to help people find purpose in their lives and in turn, stability and sustainability in home and community.”

On the roasting day, which took place at Sacred Bean’s current premises, Susanna Wesley House, in Castleward, Councillor Webb took over monitoring a batch of coffee himself:

“I happen to be a coffee drinker, so going through the process of roasting coffee was very enlightening for me. The work that Sacred Bean carries out is inspiring and unique. It’s great to see a genuine passion for helping people and to hear the success stories from those who have become part of the Sacred Bean story. A lot can be discussed over a coffee and I think this is a very fitting way to raise awareness of the growing role of council housing in helping people into sustainable accommodation and somewhere they feel they belong”.

Mike Ainsley added:

“The work Sacred Bean does directly impacts on many of the people our rough sleeper outreach team work with and I’m supportive of the work we are doing to widen the reach of this initiative into wider homelessness services.”

You can find out more about Sacred Bean Coffee on their Facebook page.