How coffee lovers are helping Scottish prisoners see the light

Coffee is becoming the saviour as a church strives to help a downtrodden community face a brighter future.

Supermarket chain Aldi has offered Glesga Roasters the chance to showcase its product and talents at new store openings. Picture: Matthew Martin
Supermarket chain Aldi has offered Glesga Roasters the chance to showcase its product and talents at new store openings. Picture: Matthew Martin

It is another workshop and the inmates gather to listen. Many have been involved in the drugs culture and the fact they are currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure reflects that

the trade hasn’t served them well.

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It would be easy for them to sneer at the words and messages of the two men standing before them – what do they know? But their words resonate nevertheless for many reasons.

“We source Rwandan Green or we could get our stuff from Colombia,” James Faddes tells his prison audience. “We cook it up, package it, negotiate a price and sell it into the community – and I can tell you it’s more lucrative than heroin.”

Inmates were not expecting that nor the fact that the ‘green’ product Pastor James Faddes is talking about is coffee, sourced ethically in direct trade deals that are also changing lives in developing countries.

Served up with a healthy dose of support from James’s church, Bishopbriggs Community Church, his project and passion Glesga Roasters is helping more and more people see the light.

With him at the workshop is Adam Inglis, a man with an equal passion for coffee and helping his fellow man, whose life has been turned around by the project and the church. Both men can empathise with the lives of the inmates and understand them well because their backgrounds were just as difficult, equally chequered.

“I was brought up in Irvine, a former bustling industrial new town, based around mining and sheet metal but very much in decline,” James recalls. “My dad worked 60-70 hours a week and he and my mum separated. I fell in with a posse of pals who were sniffing glue, sampling drugs and drink, playing truant in an area of social deprivation.

"As The Proclaimers song Letter from America says, ‘Irvine no more’. A string of short-term prison sentences saw me sink into addiction, criminality, promiscuity and when I moved to Somerset I hit rock bottom developing mental health issues as I became involved with the occult. I was delusional and I was finally sectioned under the Mental Health Act, diagnosed with drug-induced psychosis and placed on medication.

“It was a really bleak time and at 19 I was asking questions of life. I felt the world was against me and that I wasn’t worthy of life. I was looking for an answer and one day the chaplain helped me start to turn my life around. I found healing, got a job and a home, went back to school, made friends, built bridges with family and paid restitution to some of the victims of my criminality.”

Now 47, with a wife and four children, James remains on a journey of redemption for the first 17 years of his life and Glesga Roasters is the latest milestone in his new life in Bishopbriggs.

It was a similar story for West Lothian-born Adam, who now lives in Glasgow, who was experimenting with substances from the age of 11 and taking heroin from 14.

Struggling with dyslexia at school and having to cope with bereavements he admits going off the rails, his resulting violent outburst leading to terms in young offenders’ institutes and prison.

“I had a warped core belief system that descended into rampage,” he admits. “I was very troubled, wild, robberies and drug dealing were a lifestyle. I didn’t realise I had a choice and I ended up in a mental institution. I believed I was on a one-way ticket to hell. But my outreach worker was a cracking guy.

“I heard a pal was about to be released from prison and I knew if I got back in with him my next prison sentence would be ten years. I panicked and headed for the Borders for a year to be part of a residential rehabilitation programme. I started working for Street Connect Glasgow, a charity that works with the marginalised and vulnerable, and then got involved with James’ project.”

Glesga Roasters started with James’ interest in finding an alternative to alcohol for young people. He helped pioneer an alcohol-free night club in Ayrshire, where they bought an espresso machine and trained over 40 volunteers as baristas.

Stir into the mix his own background, working in prisons with addiction and criminality and support from his church and the result is a fine brew to connect with people in the local community who are trying to bounce back in life.

Adam also planned to visit a Rwanda coffee plantation with James and members of the church, but due to the global pandemic this has been rescheduled.

“I may have felt a coffee snob but soon realised I didn’t know much about it,” says James. “What we had was a recovery vehicle for people coming from the soil.

“A friend gave me an old roaster and I started roasting from green coffee from an ethical supplier. I started doing 300g at a time and supplying friends, family and the church. I was using coffee to reach the community. We received a grant to purchase a 1kg roaster to keep the project going through the lockdown. Now we are seeking funding for a 5kg roaster so we can send our artisan, ethical and socially relevant roasted and ground coffee to even more people on a monthly basis, customers who see us online.

"We are also looking to replicate the scheme across the UK. We wanted to create a platform where we could develop skills in coffee roasting and brewing with the potential for roasters to enhance their employability. We also wanted to support coffee growers in Rwanda and across the world through ethical, direct trading. All of this was fused together by our passion for excellent coffee.”

The initiative was brought under the wing of the Bishopbriggs Community Church and the work in prisons and with Street Connect is developing fast, offering people the chance to qualify as roasters and baristas.

“At the same time, on a different continent, people benefit from the fair trade. Working with local cooperatives in the stunning Karongi hillsides, we witnessed farmers pick coffee beans from fruit-laden arabica trees. This inspired a new relationship with the Sholi plantation in neighbouring Muhanga, resulting in its coffee becoming the main house roast.”

“I love the project,” says Adam. “I have just got married and my life has been completely transformed. I have been redeemed, feel elated and blessed to be able to give back.

“The skills are there either side of the fence, but we need to draw people away from the darkness. People used to look at me as a scallywag, an ex-con, a scumbag, not a contributing member of society.

"My aim was to pay tax into the system and I am now very proud to do just that. We used to deal dope, now we deal hope.”

Supermarket chain Aldi also heard about the initiative and has offered Glesga Roasters the chance to showcase its product and talents at some of its new store openings.

James says: “They have seen value not just in the product but also want to celebrate it as a platform on which to develop the skills of local people. This is about the shoulder to shoulder mentoring of people with transferable skills. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in coffee but they can hone a host of skills that can help them run a business and achieve official qualifications.

“Aldi is giving them the chance to experience a real market place which is a huge boost. This is a chance to invite people into a project to which they can contribute something, show they have intrinsic value and have something to give. We are also working with the Scottish Barista Academy, who have been mentoring and supporting us, we are developing our own curriculum to take people to the next level and we are trying to replicate this around the country as a means to prevent them entering the revolving door of recidivism.

“This is a game-changer, especially for people coming out of prison who have great skills but need the opportunity and for someone to have faith in them. There is so much potential out there if it is harnessed in the right way.”

To support Glesga Roasters and to order a subscription for regular deliveries of local, artisan roasted coffee, visit www.glesgaroasters.com

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