a desire to help his local community inspired ben francoise (economics and management, 2004) and his partner nicola to move back from hong kong to set up saints coffee in northampton in order to address local social justice, social mobility and mental health issues through specific projects.
“a coffee shop sits at the heart of the community and we felt this was a good way for us to have a real social impact” said ben. the plan is for a substantial share of the profits from the sale of sustainably and ethically sourced coffee to be used to support a variety of social projects.
pandemic restrictions delayed the shop's opening so ben decided to launch online and work to establish networks to develop the social projects he's running.
this began with him contacting his old school and other comprehensive schools across northampton and sharing his oxford experience with local schoolchildren. working with wadham’s head of access and outreach hugh munro to demystify oxford, the application process and alert local schools to the opportunities that oxford summer school programmes have to offer, ben is currently working with year 12 and 13 school students and plans to expand the programme to younger pupils and more schools, helping to broaden horizons. he’s also been working with schools to develop anti-discrimination and anti-racism programmes.
“i came from a northampton school that had not sent anyone to oxbridge for over 30 years and hasn’t sent many students since. going to wadham was a formative experience for me. even if i didn’t realise it at the time, i now know that it’s the experience that drives most of what we’re trying to do through social enterprise. wadham opened my eyes to other people who were interested in social responsibility issues. it also gave me amazing opportunities in my life and career i’m pretty sure i would not have had otherwise. i’d like to be able to open those sorts of opportunities to kids from schools like the one i went to.” this is at the heart of the social enterprise for ben – the idea of trying to break down barriers for people from different backgrounds.
this is the main reason why ben wanted to share his experience and plans with the wadham community. he was clear that it’s important children from different backgrounds see people that they can relate to when they look at oxford and cambridge.
furthermore, ben feels that for local school students, particularly those from black and other minority ethnic backgrounds, meeting someone who looks like them or shares a similar background and has been to oxford can be inspirational. “i do see ‘lightbulb’ moments when i’m talking to these kids about my experience and what they could do themselves,” he added.
saints coffee is also helping to address mental health problems related to isolation and loneliness through a variety of programmes beyond providing a space to meet and mix when the café opens next year. working with local charities and mental health experts and collaborating with a local community farm ben is already finding ways to alleviate isolation during the pandemic.
longer-term projects such as cv writing, interview, job search and application workshops, work placements and training to include vulnerable groups like the homeless, migrants leaving care and ex-offenders are all underway. ben said, “when i’ve really dug into who is doing what to help people around the community, i’ve met an amazing array of talented people and organisations who are really stretched, so we’re finding our best fit to address any gaps or complement existing efforts.”
“it has been challenging trying to establish the social enterprise side of the business before the coffee shop opens but i am enjoying it. we have found the unit and have the contract, we’re just finalising some points through solicitors, so we hope to open the shop itself in early 2021”, added ben. “the most rewarding element, other than people loving the coffee, has been old friends and people i’d never met before coming forward with ideas and asking to lead some of these projects.”
25% of all profits from saints coffee and chocolate sales, both online and in the shop, will support the social enterprise projects. and ben would love to hear from wadham alumni who would like to support his projects, particularly those with expertise in issues such as immigration law, homelessness, mental health and social mobility.
after leaving wadham, ben’s first job was with citibank. a desire to work in consulting led to a management consultancy role at pwc and from there he moved to hong kong with hsbc, working in risk management and culminating in a regional head of risk role for asia pacific. “it was fantastic living and working in hong kong…a great experience. but i felt a bit detached from the real world – which i saw every time i came back home to northampton. i always had a plan in the back of my mind to do something that would help others. then i realised i just needed to do it.”