The teacher using coffee to tackle unemployment in Cardiff


A social enterprise has been helping young adults and teenagers in Cardiff develop confidence and find work through free barista training.

Boss & Brew was set up in July to teach 16 to 24-year olds in Butetown and Grangetown about the speciality coffee industry.

Natalie Hodgkinson, 33, has taught maths for eight years but when wanting to start a career in coffee decided to merge it with her love of educating young people.

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Natalie said: “When we were all stuck working from home I had an espresso machine in my house and decided to offer coffee deliveries locally where I live. Then the idea came of combining my love for working with young people with my love for coffee and that’s how Boss & Brew was born.

“We have a high number of young people in Grangetown and Butetown but we also work with any group that faces some sort of barrier to employment and access to services. All our workshops are free to join which is what’s key to the project.

“Through coffee we want to increase people’s confidence, boost their wellbeing, and even just get them out after the pandemic and encourage them to meet new people. Not only is it about increasing their confidence but it’s about giving them new skills that they can go out and utilise in the workplace and be able to connect with local coffee shops as well.

“Our most popular workshop runs over two days. We cover four modules. We look at the history and origins of coffee and then learn how to extract the perfect espresso. The third unit is all about mastering milk and doing latte art. Lastly we run a community pop-up coffee shop where they have that real experience of making coffees and serving it to customers. They can invite their friends and family along and sometimes we have local councillors coming along.

“They all get a certificate at the end, sometimes combined with other certificates like customer service, on our more extensive courses. Then after the workshop we also provide support afterwards and proof-read their CVs.

“We run these takeovers in Little Man Coffee and once a week people can drop in and come for support. I can also connect them with jobs in local coffee shops in Cardiff. Every week we’ve had at least two new trainees come along, some who’ve already got jobs and others who are kind of looking and just want to refresh their skills.”

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Natalie felt inspired to create Boss & Brew after seeing the impact that Covid-19 caused in her local community.

She said: “These past two years have been insane for everybody but young people in particular. We have been constantly in and out of lockdown and one minute you’re allowed to see a friend and the next you’re not. Young people have really kind of taken a hit to their wellbeing even if they don’t suffer a mental health condition. It’s just losing that confidence that you take for granted when you’re living life as normal.

“Another drive is the massive hit that the hospitality industry has taken in the pandemic – coffee shops in particular. One minute they are open and the next they are not because restrictions are constantly changing. It’s really difficult for a lot of coffee shops because at the beginning of the pandemic, when everybody went on to furlough, everybody was at home and then of course, after a long period of time, not all of those baristas then went back. So there’s plenty of people looking for jobs but not necessarily ones who have the skills to be able to jump straight into the barista role.”

The courses aims to improve young people’s wellbeing and confidence while developing employability skills and making friends

Natalie says Boss & Brew has surpassed her expectations on what it can offer young people and is evolving really fast.

She said: “The biggest positive that I take from it is watching a group of young people start a workshop, barely talking much, and then over the course of the two days or four days seeing them come out of their shell more and work as a team, learning these new skills which they probably never would have considered before. That’s the best part of it for me.

“We’re doing some workshops at the moment with Green Hill Special School and they have absolutely blown my mind this week. We also run workshops for Women’s Aid.

“We’re looking at getting multiple small coffee shop spaces running around which will be all about providing young people with work placements and give trainees who want to go on to employment have some experience on shift. The larger plan is to have a training academy facility, hopefully based in Butetown, with lots of training equipment and a classroom.”

Natalie says although it’s not intentional there is a lack of diversity in the speciality coffee industry. She said: “There’s an old saying that you can’t be what you can’t see so I love how Boss & Brew has helped me see more diversity behind the coffee machine.

“The majority of the young people who have got jobs are from black and minority ethnic communities. I can now go in to a coffee shop and be served by one of my former trainees, full of confidence.”

One of these trainees is 16-year-old Asiya Hakoma from Grangetown. She took part in Boss & Brew’s first ever training course and now works as a barista in The Hideout in Grangetown.

Asiya said: “I did the course around July time and not long after that I had a really good job, which is well-paid. I was really excited about that because I wasn’t expecting such a fast result.

“The course taught me a lot of patience and customer service skills. It was a good opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone. I learnt how to communicate well and take on information.

“It made me learn the proper way of making coffee and understand why I am doing certain tasks when making it. I made new friends and definitely feel like I made a really strong friendship with Natalie.”

Natalie, who currently runs Boss & Brew by herself, runs most of her workshops in Little Man Garage

Asiya has now been working as a barista for four months. She said: “I work three times a week as obviously I’m in school. The pay is amazing – I get living wage which is great for my age. Sometimes my manager lets me close the cafe by my own and I clean up everything after my shift so I have huge responsibilities there.

“Boss & Brew definitely helped me get here, especially with making coffee. I was tested before I worked here and I was very confident when showing them what I can do. It has definitely helped me gain confidence and build up to where I am now.”

As a non-profit organisation Boss & Brew are always looking for funding and volunteers to help out. You can check out Boss & Brew’s Twitter page here.

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