Sheffield cafes serve up kindness in a coffee cup
On a cold blustery day in the city, a hot cup of coffee can be an enormous kindness.
Nobody knows this better than Jennie Swift, the founder of Pending Coffee Sheffield.
Thanks to Jennie, and the scheme she launched six months ago, there are pending coffees, cakes and soups on reserve at cafes all around the city, just waiting to be redeemed by those who can’t afford them.
“Pending Coffee is a tradition that started in Naples where customers pay in advance for a coffee on behalf of someone who can’t afford one,” said Jennie.
“A homeless person can then redeem the pending coffee for free - it’s a simple but really effective idea.”
The 39-year-old was determined to see if the scheme could work in her own city, where hundreds of people are throught to sleep rough every year.
“I wanted to enable the homeless and vulnerable to have a drink at a normal cafe,” said Jennie.
“Homeless people often socialise within their own social circle. I’d like to encourage them to socialise with the wider community.”
Since Pending Coffee Sheffield launched, nine city cafes have already signed up to take part; among them is Café at the Art House on Backfields. Manager Jo Hardiman signed up just two weeks ago.
Jo, 48, says: “I think the problem a lot of places are having is that they don’t want homeless people coming in and sitting in their cafes as they worry it will put customers off.
“The more I see the good it does, the more passionate I get about pending coffees. “It’s important for these vulnerable people to experience a bit of normal, social interaction, with someone showing them a bit of care and warmth. I really hope the people of Sheffield don’t allow the initial novelty value to wear off and that they keep donating.”
Entitled to pending coffees are the homeless and vulnerable involved with the Cathedral Archer Project, Ben’s Centre, Sheffield Rough Sleepers Service, and victims of human trafficking through the Snowdrop Project. But despite the number of donations that have flooded in during the scheme’s first months, there are still not enough people coming forward to redeem the donated food and drinks.
Jo adds: “Last night we had our second pending coffee customer. He came in quite late and had some cake and a latte, just to warm himself up. He was really grateful for the chance just to be warm for ten minutes, he didn’t stay very long.
“I would really like to see more people coming to help themselves to a free drink or a soup.”
Jon Johnson, owner of Strip the Willow cafe, on South View Road, Sharrow, says he’s proud to be a part of such an important and generous service and has seen three or four people a week come in to redeem their free coffees since they launched.
“We don’t get lots of take up on it but it’s nice to have it there,” says the 51-year-old.
“We do get some homeless people who pass through the area and we encourage them to come in and be part of what’s going on.
“It costs us nothing and it’s nice for these people to feel they’re treated the same as any other customer. We chat to them and make them feel at home.”
“We’d like for people to know that the scheme is available and, if they’re in need of a bite to eat or a drink, they can come in and be very welcome. I think part of the problem is that the homeless often feel that they aren’t going to be greeted warmly and that’s certainly not the case here.”
Louise Prey, manager of Golden Harvest on Cambridge Street, says the cafe has seen an average of one coffee being donated and redeemed every day since they joined the scheme.
“There’s so many people out there that can’t afford even a cup of coffee and we want them to know they’re welcome here,” said Louise.
“The scheme has been really successful since we launched it here. We’ve had plenty of customers that want to pay on a coffee for someone, and plenty of customers coming in to request a pending coffee.
“To be honest, even it we don’t have one currently pending, we’ll happily give one away. This scheme is about generosity for everybody and we’re keen to promote generosity and giving in the city.”
Anwen Fryer, 43, says the scheme is still in its infancy at her London Road cafe, Airy Fairy.
“It’s really new for us, but we’ve already had quite a bit of interest already”, she said.
“Our customers are very generous and we were thrilled that we had twenty pending coffees paid on in the first ten days of the scheme - we hope it grows.”