5 of the best social enterprise cafes in London

A nice cup of coffee is one thing; a nice cup of coffee that helps the community is even better. Here’s a few we think you shouldn’t miss:

Red Route Café, Hackney

On Lower Clapton Road you will find this charming little café next door to charity Volunteering Matter's learning centre, which it belongs to. The idea for the café was born the day after the London riots, and demonstrates Volunteering Matter's commitment to young people in the borough.

Food Cycle’s Pie in the Sky café, Bromley by Bow

This community café has affordable and tasty meals, supporting volunteers to gain skills and confidence necessary to get into work. Every year they also run a springtime veggie BBQ event to thank their volunteers and customers.

The Wash House café, Westminster

The Wash House belongs to the Abbey Centre, and they’ll tell you they are the best kept secret in Westminster. The Centre runs health & wellbeing programmes, and has multiple volunteering opportunities. We’ve even helped them to find volunteers for the café!

Flapjacks café, Kentish Town

This café is one of six managed by the Camden society. Like the others Flapjacks offers apprenticeship schemes for people with disabilities, allowing them work-experience, training & qualifications for entering a career in catering & hospitality. 

YOU made it café, Richmond St, downtown

Located in the Cornerstone, in a fully renovated 1879 Victorian building, this café is great place to visit if you’re in the heart of the city wanting an affordable menu and free Wi-Fi. It provides training and career opportunities to local young people.


Getting to know Headway East London

VolunteerAnything.com went to Hackney to meet Tasneem (Volunteer Coordinator) and to find out more about a charity that helps people with brain injury.

(Tasneem & a service user at Headway East London)

VA: what is Headway East London?

Tasneem: Headway is a charity for people who are the survivors of a brain injury. It’s a day centre where people come in and we do different activities. They come in for peer support, to meet other people who’ve had brain injury, they get to share experiences, make friends and it’s a real community.

VA: What is this cranial massage therapy I’ve been hearing about? They don’t get touched, how does that work?

T: They don’t get touched but its different points on the body, so if you have pain in your shoulder, they might actually be working at the bottom of your feet to see where the pressure points are. It’s really interesting - I’ve not had it myself…

VA: It sounds a bit like oriental treatment, similar to acupuncture…

T: That’s another thing our therapists offer- acupuncture. When I’ve spoken to people they say it’s really made a difference, especially for something like pain management.

VA: What roles do your volunteers provide?

T: We have specific volunteers for specific activities, so they might just be helping in the art room, or someone just for baking, people who just come in for the fundraising, but generally it’s for a range of things like making lunch, cooking, playing games, discussion groups, also one to one with members, giving them time, support, and go out on outings like the Natural History Museum or to sailing clubs, or whatever members want to do.

VA: What are some of your biggest challenges and difficulties?

T: Funding, especially in relation to the cuts - benefit cuts, social services cuts.

When people have their funding cut that means their day service is cut, their benefits are reduced, and it puts a lot of pressure on a person. It’s like a spiral, and a lot of people don’t have that support network, they don’t have family and friends.

VA: So presumably you’re not a fan of Austerity?

T: (laughs) No. Well like I say Austerity has had a real impact. We’ve been quite lucky in the past with things like winning the Big Lottery Fund. But the main bulk of our funding comes from Social Services and people doing things like running the London Marathon and different charity events.



A quick chat with Mary’s Living and Giving

VolunteerAnything.com met with Rosanna, Manager of the Highgate branch for a cup of tea, a biscuit, and to find out more about the strangely upmarket looking charity shop she runs.

VA: Mary’s Living and Giving charity shops raise money for Save the Children. What makes Mary’s Living and Giving different?

Rosanna: They’re so special! A completely new concept in charity shopping. You come in, you get excellent customer service, wonderfully priced bargains on high quality goods, and it doesn’t feel like a traditional charity shop. It’s ethical and it looks beautiful.

VA: Your shops are in affluent areas of London, why is that?

Rosanna: I think the idea behind that is the feeling that more high quality goods will come in, and then we can get the most money to help save children’s lives.

VA: What made you want to be involved with Mary’s Living and Giving?

Rosanna: I was dotting in and out of London and one day I went into the Primrose Hill shop, not knowing what it was. I made it all around the shop without realising, then something twigged - this isn’t actually a normal boutique shop.

Anyway, I saw an advert which I thought was for Primrose Hill but was in fact for Highgate and I knew I had to do it. It was instinctive. It was the best thing I’ve ever done.

VA: On your website, your shops are described as life philosophy. What does that mean specifically to you?

Rosanna: Working here has taught me a lot about giving. I don’t come from an affluent background. It’s hard to pay your rent and enjoy your life, so I wasn’t a very giving teenager. I’m amazed that we have teenagers who volunteer.

The life philosophy of this shop is definitely about giving to your community.

VA: Mary Portas is the founder of Living and Giving. Who is she?

Rosanna: She’s a real icon. She gifted Save the Children the concept of Mary’s Living and Giving charity shops. Mary made a series of programmes called Mary Queen of Shops. She rented some charity shops and said, we could do something better - raise more money; make the experience better, with customer service and a more selective approach.

She continues to be a bit of figurehead for us. I’ve met her 3 times. Her energy is inspiring. She’s brilliant.

VA: What is the biggest challenge for your Highgate branch?

Rosanna: Volunteers. Finding volunteers is always a challenge. I think the government could do more to promote it - make it something trendy again.


To volunteer with Mary’s Living and Giving, or see other charities seeking help, click here.

To find local independent shops offering free services and goods click here.

www.VolunteerAnything.com – A platform for giving. 




5 great novels about hardship and poverty to inspire you to volunteer and help your community. 

At Volunteer Anything we are moved to help for many reasons. One of them and possibly the most powerful is the acknowledgment that people suffer as a result of not having enough money. It’s painful to consider that so much historical and present anguish is caused by not having enough pieces of paper. Below are 5 wonderful books that explore poverty and hardship; ones that have encouraged us to do what we do:


  • The Jungle by Upton Sinclair.

Focusing on a family of Lithuanian immigrants working in Chicago’s stock yards at the turn of the 20th century we are taken into the horrendous conditions of the meat-packing industry. Reading this polemical work one feels a palpable relief that things have changed for the better, but also a sense of dread that in some senses things are not very much different.

  • Love on the Dole by Walter Greenwood.

A surprisingly overlooked book considering that it’s been made into a film, play and musical. It was written in 1933 – Greenwood’s first – when he has unemployed and wondering the streets looking for work. The novel explores an unstable financial climate, joblessness, toil and struggle. In this environment will the central character Harry fulfil his modest dream of taking his beloved for a holiday by the seaside?

  • Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

Not well known like 1984 and Animal farm but certainly, despite being incredibly bleak, his funniest work. Gordon Comstock hates his respectable and stifling middle-class life and chooses to drop into self-imposed poverty whilst working part time in a small book shop. The wittiest and saddest parts are when he tries to figure out how to date a woman without spending any money. Richard E Grant plays the lead in an also rather unknown film remake of the story.

  • Germinal by Emile Zola

This is a brutal, naturalistic read about the wretchedness of a mining community in Northern France, considered to be one of the greatest works written in the French language. The story is about a bad tempered unemployed railway worker who is compelled to work in a mine, and, when conditions worsen, ends up leading a strike. It’s a work of hopeful outrage.

  • Hunger by Hamsun Knut

A very powerful inner-monologue tale of a penniless young writer that was ground-breaking when first published in 1890. It’s rhythmic, intimate style captivates you as you live out the young man’s desperation as he moves closer to starvation and madness. The novel is virtually unknown in the UK, perhaps because the author went on to become a Nazi. However, Hunger intimates nothing of these later views, and as such is untroubled by them. It’s one that will haunt you and make you think twice the next time you see a poor fellow human without a home, or struggling to exist.








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