As part of our series of interviews with small business owners, we spoke to Joel. Joel used to work for British Gas, so we’re extra interested in his new venture. New Ground Coffee is an ethical, sustainable coffee roasting company, based in Oxford.

What made you think about starting a social enterprise?

I’ve wanted to do something like this for most of my adult years. I grew up in a rough area in Liverpool, but I got out in time. I left when I was 11, but a lot of my friends from primary school ended up in and out of trouble, through generational cycles or bad luck. I felt lucky to leave the circumstances I was born into and to be removed from that life. I wanted to help people who hadn’t had that opportunity. The biggest opportunity is around work.

Tell me how New Ground Coffee got started?

In 2017 I started working on plans for a social enterprise and decided on roasting high-grade coffee and providing training and job opportunities for ex-offenders. I’ve been full time since October 2018, and we were trading for a year before then. At the moment we’re roasting our coffee at another local roasting company, which is very limiting. We roast about 100kg of coffee a week.

It’s going well, we’re going through a large expansion and planning to move to much bigger premises in an exciting location in Oxford. The main purpose will be for coffee roasting and distribution, and a training facility. We’ll have an on-site café, mostly for take-away. We’ve ordered the roaster from the US and it’ll be here by June, so we’re hoping to open then.

Why the coffee industry?

Coffee has been a passion of mine for about 10 years and I’ve got two young kids, so it makes sense to do something that you love and that keeps you awake. It felt like an obvious step.

I also wanted a company that is aspirational to work for, that anyone would want to work in. The speciality coffee market is growing year on year by more than 10%, so there are good, sustainable opportunities for people. It’s relatively quick to train and upskill in a coffee field like barista-ing, so it’s a good industry to train people up in. And particularly with Brexit, the coffee industry is reliant on European staff so there could be a need there as well as it being a growing market.

The industry is great, it’s built around supporting communities around the world and sustainability generally. You’d struggle to get a non fair-trade product, it’s generally forward thinking in that respect. It’s accepting of a new social enterprise as a concept.

How many employees do you have?

We’re about to take on our first. We’ve gone through the Ministry of Justice system that buddies up prisons with local businesses. We’ve offered a placement to someone coming to the end of their sentence, who can come out on temporary licence. It’s the beginning of paid work, although it’s paid through the prison system. We’re providing a coffee qualification through that.

We’ve been building up the business so that there’s something to join. We’re legally structured so that the more the business does, the more job opportunities there are for ex-offenders.

What’s the vision?

The mid-term plan would be a base for training cohorts of ex-offenders. We’re developing the programme for that, but maybe a 12-week programme, three times a year, for four to five people at a time. We want to provide a really grounded experience, not just vocational skills but other business skills, help managing finance, software skills as well. We’re working closely with other organisations that have seen it done well, like Luminary Bakery. They’ve been helping with the model and we provide them with great coffee.

Our key measure will be reducing reoffending rates. Ex-prisoners reoffend more than 50% of the time, which costs the government up to £15bn a year. It’s largely down to training and work opportunities. Ninety-five percent of employers won’t interview you if you tick the box to say you’ve got a criminal record. So we want to be able to track that with the guys we work with over time, as well as stats around well-being.

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