Link to the original article online 25 November 2017.
Cup From Above (a social enterprise that trains people to work in hospitality) grew out of a business deal that went sour. I’d moved back to Brisbane from the Sunshine Coast when an old school friend asked me to be a shareholder in a cafe; it didn’t work out and I was left with the cafe in Aspley (in Brisbane’s north). It was in the worst situation possible – it was in debt, running at a loss, the overdraft was maxed out and we had nothing.
Becoming a social enterprise wasn’t a deliberate decision. I just thought, I’ll operate a business and try to help people along the way. The homeless and hungry were coming in; we had food, so we’d just feed them. It’s an extension of my faith. I’m not a member of any organised religion, more an organic Christian.
I follow the basic teachings of Jesus, caring for those who are disadvantaged. That was the heart of it, to try to run a profitable business that empowered people in the community.
We started training the homeless, drug addicts, former criminals to be baristas and to work in hospitality. They would volunteer to learn and work in the cafe, to get experience, till they started getting jobs elsewhere. Cup From Above is five years old now. We recently moved into Fortitude Valley and linked up with a registered training organisation so our trainees earn recognised qualifications.
The downside of training your people to have exceptional skills and stand out when going for a job is you become so fussy about your coffee, and it’s hard to go anywhere to drink stuff that doesn’t taste as good.
We often joke we’re changing the world one cup at a time. A lot of people ask us, why open a cafe? The psychology of community building talks about the concept of third place, which is the social surroundings separate from home and work. That third place used to be the church 100 years ago. Where can people meet now to have a conversation and build healthy relationships? The coffee shop. Coffee is the symbol for community.
I grew up in Aspley, in a messy family I’m not really close to. After school I studied jazz piano and guitar at the Jazz Musical Institute (at inner-north Bowen Hills), but I needed a job as well and eventually got one in the aged care sector.
That was my introduction to social work, in between (music) gigging. During 10 years on the Sunshine Coast I worked with people with disabilities and specialised in those with advanced difficult behaviours. I worked with murderers, rapists, the worst of the worst, helping them reintegrate into the community after being incarcerated.
So much can be accounted for by bad families and unhealthy environments, being taught how to be violent, but these people can be loved back to life.
Disconnection is the disease and community is the cure. That’s my one-liner. Coffee facilitates community. We’ve seen some beautiful results. Guys who have been taking hard drugs for 10-plus years and had several incarcerations who are now reconnecting with family, getting off drugs, getting jobs; these solutions grew out of healthy relationships. It’s what people are craving.
As a culture I think we’re avoiding the one thing that would cure so much, and that’s becoming vulnerable and connecting with someone who is really hurting. That’s hard. You can’t connect with 1000 people but you can connect with one or two or three. Be humble enough to reduce those numbers and love a few people who are difficult to love.
I don’t have a partner or pet as I’m too busy with Cup From Above, but I love going to the beach, climbing mountains, reconnecting with nature. Every couple of weeks some friends and I will go to the Glass House Mountains, where it’s so quiet and peaceful.
I also love reading anything I can get my hands on, particularly biographies. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela is probably one of my favourites. I love reading about the great things people have done and learning those lessons.