By Natalie Lobel, Founder of Grounded MCR
Sustainability – a word often bandied around by people who’ve ticked the right boxes in their business plan and left it at that! For us, it meant creating a business that is sustainable in all senses of the word – doing our bit to tackle the climate crisis by being as environmentally friendly as possible, sourcing locally/seasonally, including as many vegan options as possible. But importantly, we wanted to improve our own and everyone else’s mental health, a way to help everyone think differently about the world and why it needs saving.
We wrote our business plan about six times, and each time it felt like something was missing. We had sourced the biodegradable cups, hooked up with someone to compost our coffee grounds, made sure we knew the coffee famers were getting a fair wage and that we had the greenest (yellowest!) trike around town. But how were we sustaining our minds and how could we improve the mental health of ourselves and our new employees? We felt we could, and should, employ people who, like us, are struggling with their mental health. We had to put our philosophy first – so our company is and always will be, people before profits.
We sell specialty coffee, hot drinks, luxury ice cream and locally sourced baked goods from a trike. We’re completely inclusive – our business model centres around helping anxiety sufferers, those displaced by Covid and those vulnerable to being on Universal Credit long term. We are working with the Government on its Kickstart scheme and have employed two people with social anxiety. They are thriving, so far. The combination of working outside, being trained in barista skills, giving them autonomy to truly be themselves, plus free monthly coaching sessions, have given them confidence to cope. We all have our anxious moments, days, weeks and as anxiety rears its head at the most inopportune of moments, it’s not always easy to cope. But we do – no topic is off limits and open conversation means problems are solved efficiently.
Our customers are very supportive, and we give back as much as we can – we encourage community groups to use our gazebo for free, we host a parental support group, give free brews to litter pickers, run half price yoga sessions, encourage tree bathing and partner other local sustainability-focused businesses. We always have time for a chat – the incredible connections we have made with our customers have exceeded all our expectations. A couple of weeks ago, we won British St Food Awards’ Most Sustainable Trader 2021 – it’s amazing to be recognised for our version of sustainability, which isn’t all about being ‘green’.
We recently won a 66-seater bus which has been decommissioned by TfGM. Our plan with the bus is to turn it into a community project – with an allotment on the roof, solar panels, ‘green’ plant walls, cafe, and event space inside, to host supper clubs, cancer support and mental health support groups, crochet classes, WI meetings – you name it, we want there to be events for all. Any food we grow on the roof will be served in the cafe – the menu will be seasonal, simple and have options for all.
We are very ambitious – our plan is to roll out additional café trikes, bikes, converted fire engines etc across the country, so we can help as many people as possible (who may be overlooked for a job elsewhere) gain employment. We’ll keep practising as we preach and recognising there’s still a lot to learn – every day is a school day when it comes to sustainability!