Gloucester ‘Friends’ coffee shop helping those most at need in community – and the environment 

17th November 2023

It’s the real-life ‘Friends coffee shop’ that is supporting those most in need in the community – while helping the environment by reducing plastic packaging.

A group of pals launched Roots Coffee and Community in Kingsholm, Gloucester, in 2014 with the aim of creating an ethical business to make their neighbourhood a better place to live.

Since then the thriving café has become a meeting point for coffee-loving customers as well as groups and individuals who share its ethos; That inclusive community is essential for a thriving neighbourhood.

In February, the business launched its ‘Roots Refills’ project, following a £21,380 grant from Severn Trent’s Community Fund, which helped finance the opening of a new, plastic free refill shop and kitchen. It offers refills of food produce without the need for plastic packaging, while plans to offer cut-price or even free meals to the community is also coming soon.

So far the scheme has prevented the use of more than 15,000 pieces of single use plastic – which would have been destined for landfill.

Daniel Smith, 36, is manager at Roots Coffee and Community which is run by a small team of staff and dedicated volunteers.

The dad-of-two said: “Roots Coffee Community was started with a group of local friends who wanted to do something positive by creating a community hub for the neighbourhood.

“They wanted somewhere where local people could come and feel welcome – even if they spent all day with one cup of coffee.

“As a business, we put people first and want to be a force for good in the neighbourhood, helping with issues like food poverty and social isolation.

“We value people not just as customers, but individuals with their own stories and lives.”

The café quickly became a key part of the community, becoming a meeting point for a wonderfully diverse crowd, including groups involved in social activities like running, yoga and knitting.

But it did not end there. Last year the business successfully applied to the Severn Trent Community Fund for funding for Roots Refills, which is based in an adjoining warehouse to the café.

Daniel explained: “Our city, like every other city, has a big problem with plastic and litter so we wanted to do our bit for the environment with a plastic free refill shop.

“We primarily offer refills on food like pasta, rice, lentils as well as cleaning products like washing up liquid, conditioner and shampoo. We also price-match supermarkets so customers do not pay any more for helping the environment.

“So far we have helped avoid the use of 15,000 single use plastics which would have gone to landfill. We hope to see that figure grow to 25,000 by the end of the year.

“The shop also sells crafts from local people. It has been a real pleasure to help champion their work, it’s great fun.”

The weekly meals will be supplied via special tokens, which can be bought at the shop for ‘pay-as-you-feel’ amounts. They will be given out free to struggling families and individuals by partnering groups including Housing Associations – ensuring no stigma is attached when they are handed over the counter.

Daniel said: “The kitchen space gives us a meaningful way to reach out to the neighbourhood and offer some holistic ways to tackle food poverty. We work with people to meet their needs and boost their confidence around food.

“Our weekly meals are an open invitation to the community. We are trying to create a bonding over a meal experience that so many people are missing and we hope it will be a seedbed for other ideas.

“No money changes hands, customers just show the token. So no-one knows if they have paid or it is free.”

Since its launch in 2020, the Severn Trent Community Fund has awarded £417,494 to 25 community projects across Gloucestershire.

Daniel said: “The grant has been massively important. It’s hard enough to stay in business at the moment with all the overheads, so it would be impossible to do this kind of project without the funding support.

“The grant has allowed us to increase our impact in the community and do the good stuff – it’s been a real joy.”