Changing lives through coffee

A photo of the Change Please coffee van, dark grey with the yellow and grey logo on the side, next to a photo of someone holding a Change Please coffee cup close to the camera
Image from Change Please
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 17 December 2019

Changing the way you buy your coffee can change someone’s life. I’m so impressed by the way Change Please is using business as a force for good by training homeless people to become professional baristas and serve award-winning coffee in recyclable cups, from suppliers that pay a living wage.

Richard Branson with Cemal from Change Please and one of their Baristas

Change Please launched four years ago with a £25,000 Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp and their coffee is now being served on Virgin Atlantic and previously on Virgin Trains. It’s exciting to see the team expand all across the UK and beyond – from France to Australia.

I’ve met their founder Cemal Ezel a few times, most recently at a 100% Human at Work forum in London. He introduced me to one of their head trainers, Tom, who had such a moving story.

Tom was born in the US and had lived there all his life. He was involved in an accident four years ago and cracked his spine in four places and could no longer work. After reconstructive surgery, Tom was prescribed 12 different opioid-based medications, which he decided to store in one container – not realising this was illegal.

Tom was eventually arrested but couldn’t afford a lawyer so he spent six months in prison awaiting trial. He was then transferred to an immigration prison - as his parents were British citizens - though Tom had never set foot in the UK. Two-and-a-half years ago, Tom was tried for 12 different crimes and was found guilty of one offence (storing multiple prescription medicines in one container).

A bag of Change Please coffee beans - Tom's Blend
Image from Change Please

The authorities then deported Tom to the UK – escorted by two Royal Marine Commandos. Upon arriving at Heathrow, he was forced to remove his shoelaces and belt and was then left at the airport without medication and homeless. Eventually, Tom was referred to the humanitarian charity Prisoners Abroad who connected him with Change Please. 

Change Please gave him somewhere to live and trained Tom up as a professional barista and he quickly became one of Change Please’s favourite baristas. Tom then went on to become an approved speciality trainer, accredited by the Specialty Coffee Association of Europe, and is now one of Change Please’s head trainers with his own signature blend!

It’s incredible to hear how Tom managed to beat the odds and turn his life around and to realise that something as simple as changing where you buy your daily coffee could change someone’s life.  

I couldn’t be more proud to see how Virgin companies are supporting Change Please to create change at scale. I’m looking forward to hearing how their story, and Tom’s story, continues to evolve.