London's Café Culture With a Conscience

Sam Peet
Sam Peet | © Culture Trip
Photo of Amy Nguyen
6 April 2020

From flat whites as a force for good with an extra shot of social impact to the city’s best bakeries with benefits, the culture of purchasing with purpose has never been easier. Read on to discover the London spots that prove you really can have your cake and eat it, too.

As the community takes centre stage in London with a focus on sustainable development, education and support of the vulnerable, the city is witnessing the rise of social enterprise cafés. The purpose of these businesses is to alleviate homelessness, foster rehabilitation, transform lives, reinvest profits to care for people and the environment, and to celebrate positive change.

Purchasing with purpose has never been easier | Courtesy of Redemption Roasters

Luminary Bakery, Stoke Newington

Bakery, British, $$$

The mission of this Stoke Newington social enterprise bakery is to build a future for vulnerable women who have experienced social and economic disadvantage through violence and sexual exploitation. The Luminary Bakery has a mission to re-empower these women through their employability training or progression support programmes. They go about it through a holistic approach to education by providing transferable skills and financial management, plus the women gain hygiene qualifications, and learn to bake to a professional standard. And as for the goodies you’ll find at the Luminary Bakery, there’s celebration cakes, traybakes, vegan peanut butter cookies and cinnamon swirls – all of which satiate sweet tooths. You can also find Luminary Bakery’s second home now open in Chalk Farm.

Redemption Roasters, Farringdon

Coffee Shop, Coffee, $$$
Redemption Roasters shop front
Courtesy of Redemption Roasters

Redemption Roasters is a speciality coffee company and the UK’s first prison-based coffee roastery dedicated to raising the bar. Across the various city locations, customers can get suitably caffeinated with a promising social cause: the rehabilitation of young offenders. With the news that prisoners are 50 percent more likely to reoffend if they leave prison without additional skills, the team at Redemption Roasters work to create long-term infrastructure for the inmates at HMP The Mount, Aylesbury. Working in collaboration with the nonprofit Speciality Coffee Association, which aims for social reintegration through the training in professional coffee roastery, barista and general hospitality skills and leveraging Redemption Roaster’s broad network of over 100 wholesale clients, future employment opportunities are likely for the participants. The coffee itself is delicious, and true to a sustainable ethos: the ethically sourced beans originate from Brazil, Uganda, Honduras and beyond. Meanwhile, coffee alternatives include their sticky leaf chai, and a selection of snacks are also available.

Paper and Cup, Shoreditch

Cafe, European, British, Tea
The team at Paper + Cup, created by the Spitalfields Crypt Trust, collaborate with homeless services to support those recovering from addiction by providing residential and day programmes, as well as move-on accommodation for those ready to take the next step. Fitted in the cosiest of spaces, you can cuddle up with a book from their second-hand selection and indulge in spiced teas, syrupy pastries and watch the world go by. Customers who delight in interiors can look next door to their sister enterprise Restoration Station, an upcycling, antique furniture store teaching carpentry skills to those in recovery.

Dusty Knuckle Bakery, Dalston

Bakery, Cafe, Pastries, Coffee, $$$
Interior of Dusty Knuckle Bakery
Courtesy of Dusty Knuckle Bakery

Taking pride in ancient bread-making processes like utilising organic grains and cracking between rotating stones, Dusty Knuckle delivers more than an artisan loaf. A stone’s throw from Dalston Junction Overground, the bakery and café has built a platform to support the young in need through education on financial independence and employment opportunities. Originally founded in a steel container, they have extended to large lofty premises in Hackney where visitors can devour everything from white potato sourdough and dark rye to sticky buns. Treasuring the teaching aspect of baking, the Dusty Knuckle team offers work experience, along with classes in bread-making and fermentation to engage with the community. Paired with the doughy deliciousness, try their coffee sourced from East London institution Ozone Roasters.

Café Van Gogh, Oval

Cafe, British

Founded by Steve Clarke, Café Van Gogh works with a network of three charities to support those with disabilities and suffering with mental health issues with on-the-job training. Situated inside an old church under a ceiling painted to resemble Van Gogh’s Starry Night, this not-for-profit is well known by the plant-based Londoners for its brunch and Sunday roast dishes, but most importantly it provides a work placement for the young, while donating all proceeds to aid those with disabilities. Community is at the heart of the café, which hosts classes that engage with parents on how to cook on a low-income budget. The social mission is complemented by the environmental culture and zero-waste philosophy, with vegetables grown by the local community, the elimination of single use plastics in their operations and loving of their leftovers through composting.

Café From Crisis, Spitalfields

Cafe, Coffee

Having opened its doors in 2004, Café From Crisis is London’s longest standing award-winning social enterprise café; here, the team is dedicated to fighting homelessness and rehabilitating ex-offenders. For each penny spent on their coffee that’s sourced from independent London-based roastery, Volcano Coffee Works, you fund a training programme that provides a helping hand into the hospitality industry for those in need. Plus, if you’re in Dalston, make a pit stop at the new Shop From Crisis, where you can find another café hiding in the back, to simultaneously sip on tea while shopping the charity store’s offering.

Central Street Café, Clerkenwell

Cafe, Vegan

When you fancy a feast and want to feel good, head to Central Street Café where you can get dishes like vegan pancakes, beetroot falafels, freshly baked frittatas and black rice risotto for under £10. Working with the charity St Luke’s Trust, the aim for this vibrant haunt near Old Street is to provide a safe space for those in the community. All proceeds from the café are invested in providing delicious, high-quality meals for the elderly in Islington. The proof is quite literally in the pudding: in 2015 alone, they provided over 11,500 subsidised meals to those in need and living alone.

Better Health Bakery, Haggerston

Bakery, Pastries, $$$

This Haggerston-based social enterprise bakery is an offshoot of East London’s Centre for Better Health, a charity dedicated to tackling the challenges surrounding mental health. Specialising in sourdough and artisan loaves, you can sink your teeth into sourdough pizzas and a selection of soups, salads and sandwiches at this serene spot. Serving more than delicious baked goods, they provide placements to trainees who have been distanced from employment and career prospects due to mental health issues. The team pledges full transparency and publishes the details of each 12-week trainee placement and their journey within the Better Health Annual Report. Cyclists making a pit stop for sustenance at the bakery can also pop next door to the Better Health Bikes store that provides repairs and sells upcycled bikes under the same social premise.

Unity Kitchen, Bromley by Bow

Restaurant, British

The team at Unity Kitchen are driven by environmental and social purpose, with all proceeds from their three sites directly funding a platform that trains those with disabilities as baristas, chefs and servers. Profits from their culinary offering supports an apprenticeship scheme that offers those the chance to gain transferable skills to those who have only known unemployment. Their prioritising of sustainability principles is evident through their selection of organic fair trade produce: they work with local suppliers including East London’s Climpson & Sons as well as exclusively using vegware for disposables. Even their kitchens are fitted with natural materials sourced from sustainable forests. Head to their Bromley by Bow branch on a summer’s day and enjoy the park setting.

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