The Art of the Community Café
Study Visit to Three Trees Community Centre & Olive Branch Cafe
All Saints Action Network (ASAN) organized a study visit to the Three Trees Community Centre including the Olive Branch Café and the nearby Chelmund’s Fish & Chips Take Away. ASAN staff and Board members participated in the study visit which included a walking tour of the Community Centre and the nearby take away. We received a presentation from Reverend Neil Roberts who has led the development of the old Chelmsley Wood Baptist Church into a brand-new fit for purpose community hub, Dave Lane Finance Manager at the Chip Shop and Olive Branch Café and from Janine Dutton who founded the Café in 2013.
What We Learnt
We learned about the importance of having the right location for the café – it needs to be in the heart of the community with well designed hospitality space. It should be positioned to maximise footfall and in this case the Café was located at the entrance to Three Trees Community Centre requiring all building users to walk through the café – effectively acts as the reception for the building.
That the business works best when there are independent entrepreneurs running it and taking ownership to drive it forwards. In this case the Café was established as CIC with independent directors but with an excellent partnership with the Community Centre, who recognised the crucial importance of having a thriving Café at the heart of the building, to the extent that rent was discounted for the first year enabling the Café to become established.
The café works best if there is a core of paid staff with volunteering and training provision adding some depth to the staffing mix. We were told that the ‘business needs paid staff who can be relied on to turn up day in day out.’
Another recognised strength was using the freshest ingredients to prepare food each day onsite from a traditional menu, which best served their local market.
Investing in the right kit was key so they had sourced the best coffee machine they could afford, costing £5,000, resulting in recognition by Trip Advisor and others that they served the best coffee in the area: ‘freshly roasted and hand crafted.’
Following the early stage support given to the Café, Three Trees have gone onto lead the establishment of the first social enterprise Fish and Chips take away in the West Midlands and possibly nationally. This was a far bigger enterprise with 4 key partners, requiring a funding cocktail including a big chunk of social finance to resource £150,000 set up costs. This is only now breaking even after opening in February 2017. They only had the confidence to tackle this after the success of the Olive Branch Café CIC who were also one of the partners in the Chippy.
What We Liked
We found inspiring the level of trust and collaboration amongst individuals and organisations working in the neighbourhood – with the outcomes from this partnership clearly visible, in the words of Rev Neil: ‘the strength and unity that is here is our biggest achievement.’
We will aim to follow their example to run our Café in a business-like manner and to be clear about how it fits in with both its setting operationally and how it will support the social impact of ASAN.
ASAN’s learning from the visit will directly inform our plan to start a catering business, initially in our Workspace Business Centre and leading to a Heritage Café on the nearby historic Royal Hospital Site. We found that the presentation on the Olive Branch Café included staffing model, financial model, challenges and successes on the road towards sustainability – all covered the areas sufficiently and conveyed that nothing they did was too complicated. The opportunity to meet and ask questions of staff directly involved with the enterprises from the outset was invaluable.
ASAN Research Manager