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COMMUNITY CAFE WHERE FAIRNESS IS TOP OF THE MENU

by IBRAHIM DOGUS

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When I came to Britain in the 1990s I waited tables day and night to make my way in a new country.

With a mixture of hard work and good fortune, I was able to work, save, build a business and buy a home. Those experiences helped drive me politically and, now that I hold a local leadership role as mayor, I am determined to create the same opportunities for people in London struggling to get by – that’s why I have set up a dedicated café for the homeless in Waterloo.

I am all too aware that not everyone enjoyed the good fortune I did more than 20 years ago when I walked into a job.

And, of course, those people already on the breadline in the 2010s have had to cope with years of austerity-driven by misplaced Tory dogma and the ideology of an ever-smaller state.

London is one of the most vibrant and enterprising cities in the world. Its mayor, Sadiq Khan, has been steadfast in his desire to keep the city open, tolerant and rewarding of hard work amid the political chaos of the last three years. The scale of homelessness in the capital today, however, bears witness to the cruelty and incompetence of successive Tory governments led by out-of-touch leaders like David Cameron, Theresa May and the blustering Boris Johnson.

In Lambeth I am pleased to say we take a different approach.

In September I opened a coffee shop that aims to deliver great taste while making a difference.

With Love is a community charitable enterprise with a focus on helping the homeless.

The not-for-profit shop is based in Elizabeth House in the shadow of Waterloo station – a vast metal and concrete structure that was built in the 1840s, which honours the dead of the Great War and launched the first Eurostar service in the 1990s. It has a significant social history but today it risks being known for something ignoble – the rising tide of homelessness, with rough sleepers clustering around the station. As a local councillor, this worries me. As a citizen, it angers me. As a local businessman, it puzzles me.

So, when commuters, tourists and shoppers stop at Waterloo they see With Love. They are buying our great-tasting morning coffee they will be encouraged to buy discounted food or a hot drink and donate it to someone who could not afford it. By building opportunities for giving into our daily routine, With Love is encouraging giving at the same time as bringing people together, cutting the stigma around homelessness and creating a special type of enterprise. It has the simple aim of being a good business that’s also good for the community it serves.

We are now considering how to provide training opportunities for unemployed Londoners following the countless studies which show a direct link between a lack of traditional education, unemployment, poverty and homelessness.

And for the staff we hire to work in With Love then we will pay them the London Living Wage and ensuring we put fairness at the top of the menu.

With Love will not end homelessness. We know we are just one part of a bigger solution which is being driven by community businesses across the capital. But, by providing warm food and warm conversation, we can strip out the ideology of austerity and make a real difference to the tired and the lonely.

The community business has been made possible by generous supporters including HB Reavis, who provided the premises rent-free, Ben & Jerry’s, who provided funds for refurbishment, and www.facebook. com/withlovewaterloo/- Cola, Just Eat, Cobra Beer and Chef Online who all made contributions. You can find out more about this amazing project at www.facebook. com/withlovewaterloo/

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