Laurie Chen meets the UCL student giving London’s homeless a Second Shot
Julius Ibrahim is no ordinary UCL student. Unlike the majority of those studying Economics, he definitely has no plans to become an investment banker or a consultant after graduation this year. Instead, he has founded a non-profit charity coffee enterprise dedicated to employing London’s homeless and giving them a second chance at getting the life they deserve. Hence the name, Second Shot: an independent cafe in east London that aims to tackle homelessness, one artisan flat white at a time.
After sitting down for an interview with Julius, it is hard not to be impressed by his eloquence and evident passion for his cause. He explains the two main motivations that inspired him to set up Second Shot: the extent of homelessness in the capital and his natural affinity for hospitality. “Moving into Euston and seeing how prevalent [homelessness] was – I just couldn’t believe it.” He adds: “Through one managerial decision, one paycheck or one argument that causes a family breakdown, someone’s life could be completely flipped on its head … literally anyone can become homeless.”
“For every rough sleeper you see on the street, there are 100 hidden homeless living in hostels and thousands living in overcrowded accommodation.”
Ever since he was a young boy, it has always been Julius’s dream to open his own cafe. He tells of how he used to convert his house into a diner over the summer holidays, and opened up his own mini-enterprises at school. After having later worked in a restaurant and in street food for several years, he says: “The penny just dropped when I thought that there’s no reason why I can’t combine those two passions now and start creating an impact now – there is such a great need for it.” And it’s true that there has never been a bigger need for a social enterprise like Second Shot in London.
When describing the true extent of homelessness in the city, Julius reels off shocking statistics: “For every rough sleeper you see on the street, there are 100 hidden homeless living in hostels and thousands living in overcrowded accommodation. London has 1/3 of the UK’s homeless, which is just ridiculous.” According to Julius, the government and local authorities are only making the problem worse. Along with the infamous anti-homeless spikes, he tells of a recent measure introduced in Hackney, which effectively makes it illegal to be homeless: if you’re caught on the street begging, you could receive a £200 fine. Outraged by this, he further explains that, due to third sector funding cuts, the government is making it more difficult for charities and social enterprises to have an impact on the problem.
“The penny just dropped when I thought that there’s no reason why I can’t combine those two passions now and start creating an impact now – there is such a great need for it.”
It is this social impact that Julius and Second Shot are aiming for. Having been President of UCLU Enactus, the university’s social enterprise society, for the last two years, Julius is well equipped with the skills and experience needed to turn his vision into a reality. Having spoken to different charities, he learned that his project needed to be accessible and something that would develop the employees’ immediate skills, while also making a long-term and sustainable impact. So he came to the conclusion that hospitality training, and particularly barista skills, would provide his new recruits with a full support package. He plans to hire three full-time baristas directly from a network of people provided by Crisis, the UK’s biggest homelessness charity. The baristas are placed on a rotation scheme allowing roughly six months per placement, after which they will hopefully have gained the skills required to further their own career paths.
Julius plans to open the cafe in the Bethnal Green area, and is currently on the hunt for the perfect premises and the right investors. He has a clear creative vision for the cafe itself, aiming for a ‘hipster’ cafe that provides great service but with a unique social enterprise twist. He says excitedly: “Everything in the cafe will be for sale…all the furniture will be up-cycled vintage, so you’re walking into this really cool place, but you also get a great coffee and some great grilled cheese.’’ The Pay it Forward scheme, where customers can pre-pay for refreshments to be given to those in need, will also feature, along with the unsold food being distributed to vulnerable people after closing hours. Julius hopes that attributes such as these will get customers on board with his cause and make Second Shot a place that they will support on a regular basis.
“Ultimately, I want to be a flag-bearer for social enterprise,” he says. “I want to get to a place where customers demand social impact from their businesses, because there’s no reason why every business can’t be a social enterprise.”
Featured image credit: Julius Ibrahim