Personal Stories

Mason and Mentor Barista, Marco at Change Please Goodge Street

Mason joined Change Please in June on a three month barista training programme. He is currently working with Marco at our Goodge Street kiosk two days a week. He spoke to us about his journey so far, his latte art skills and his hopes for the future.

How did you find about Change Please?

So basically I’m living in supported accommodation at the minute and they have in house support – someone for mental health, someone for jobs, someone for training and the person from the job section came to me with this idea of ‘Change Please’. He said it was a new start-up, social enterprise and I thought ‘yeah let’s have a look at it’. I didn’t have any ideas or options on the table so I thought ‘yeah, why not, give it a go’. I went to the training, really enjoyed it.

What did you learn at the training?

I thought coffee was just put in a cup and that’s it! But it’s not, if it’s one gram or two grams less or more then it can really change it to either really bitter or really sweet. So it is actually quite cool how in depth coffee is really. I’m lucky I think I’ve picked it up pretty quickly and I’m enjoying it.

I did 5 days total training over two weeks. The first couple were just to get used to the machines, the set up, how it all works etc. The coffee part I picked up pretty quickly – americano, you put the hot water in first etc. So now I’m just going to focus on my latte art! I’m already doing the love hearts, the big foamy ones or the nice thin ones; I can do both of them now. I’m happy I’ve done that but I want to do more!

When did you start working?

It was the following week! I must have got the call about the idea but if I’m honest I wasn’t sure about being a coffee barista.

I’ve not lived a normal life for the past 12 years. I’ve been in my own little bubble so it wouldn’t have mattered what job they would come to me with, all of it would have weirded me out. But then they said what the pay was,the bonuses, the support I can get and I thought it sounded like a really good idea. As a collective it sounded great.

Where was your first day?

I was in Clapham Common first with Nadja. She was a really good teacher and helped me a lot. On my first couple of days I was a little bit shy – I hadn’t had a job for a long time. It took me two days to find my feet and after that I was fine and happy with it all. I was there for three weeks in Clapham Common and I’m now at Goodge Street with Marco. He seems like a really top guy, he’s got a really good energy about him. And you know straight away you’re going to get on with him.

What’s it like to live a day in the life of a Change Please Barista?

At the minute I work two days a week, two eight hour days which are Monday and Tuesday at the minute. A normal day for me is I get up at 4.30am, have a quick shower, a quick coffee, a bit of toast maybe. And then I leave mine about 5.30/5.40am just to make sure because London can be busy no matter what time it is. So I leave a little bit early to make sure I get there on time. I get in for 6.30 and do my eight hours. I normally take a little break about half ten. As soon as I get in I get straight into it, make sure all the milk is in order, make sure everything is cleaned and start serving people, trying to make people smile.

Something we also do that I really like is that the homeless people in the area can come and get a free cup of tea. Today, for example, is raining like nothing and a cup of tea is nothing – what does it cost? 50? – but giving that person that cup of tea, you don’t know what it’s going to do to them. They might have had such a horrible night before, maybe they didn’t sleep anywhere, they couldn’t find anywhere, they’re still up. That cup of tea could change their day.

What does Change Please mean for you?

Change Please is supportive, compassionate, understanding, just a massive help.

It’s the fact that someone has given you a chance. That’s all people need, a solid foundation, somewhere secure to live and a job. And that’s it, you’re set for life, you literally are. You have everything you need to live. I’m just really happy that they don’t judge anyone and they’ll give anyone a chance.

It’s nice as well for someone to expect responsibility from you – I know if I don’t come in at 6.30, ok they might be able to handle it, but I’m going to cause a lot of headache. I’ve got responsibilities now, I can’t let these people down because they haven’t let me down so that would just be unfair if I let them down.

So I’m working for Change Please for three months and then see where we go from there.

What do you hope for in three months?

I don’t know really. As it stands, if the possibility was there for full time with Change Please I would like to go for that because I think I would be able to give to the company in the same role as what others have given to me. I would like to be a Mentor Barista – I can chat with anyone and I don’t judge anyone. You don’t know what people could have done in their life, they could have been a manager at a bank and hit depression and have ended up on the streets – you should never judge anyone. People often take for granted the support network they have, whether it’s friends or family or whatever is is, people take for granted how lucky they are to have structured support because some people just fall through the gap and people are forgotten about, lost in the system and you don’t know what’s going to happen to them.

I want to be able to give people a chance as well, take what Change Please have given me and give it to someone else.

Where do you hope to be in 5 years?

Hopefully in five years I’ll have a place of my own similar to this. Whether it’s with coffee or not, I don’t know, I’m ambitious. I definitely like the idea of social enterprise though and I’ve got some ideas…

Mason’s journey to Change Please

I started selling drugs when I was young, when I was only 13 or 14. Soon after I started having arguments with my Mum and Stepfather until things got so bad I felt I had no option but to leave. I thought I was a King, I had money and didn’t need them. When you’re following the wrong people they are putting stuff in your head as well and it’s easier just to leave. So I left my family when I was about fifteen, sixteen. I carried on selling drugs, all over London. I went to jail in 2011 for the London Riots and I came out of jail and started a job but it didn’t last long. I don’t think I was ready mentally to work a ‘normal’ job, I wasn’t grown up enough and hadn’t learnt enough lessons. Maybe the lack of support was a contributing factor but I just couldn’t deal with the work environment at the time.

I’ve had mental issues since I was a kid but it’s only now that people are really talking about it. All those times I had depression, anger, anxiety and whatever else, I just didn’t know how to deal with it. No-one teaches you how to deal with it. I was used to a certain environment of selling drugs where no one could talk to me in a certain way or behave in a certain way towards me. So when I was at work and the manager was saying ‘do this, do that’ and the way they spoke to me I just thought ‘who are you talking to? Screw this job I’m gone’ so I think I wasn’t grown up enough to deal with a job.

So I just carried on selling drugs and it was only last year that I stopped. One of my friends got shot and died. He literally left me ten minutes before, we were just in someone’s house, doing our thing and he left. I was still working and the next minute I had a phone call saying ‘have you heard what happened..?’ and after that. He was a really close friend, I knew his Mum, I knew his sister, I knew his whole family. It was a really big reality check for me – I don’t care if I’m making ten grand a month, it’s not worth that.

So that’s when I decided to go back into the system and go to the government for help. At first they didn’t want to help me because I haven’t been on any computer systems so they said I wasn’t a priority and that there was nothing for me. So then I was in a position where I was thinking ‘do I even stop doing this?’. Luckily one organisation I was speaking to managed to get me into the supported accommodation that I’m in now.

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