Watch: Social Bite returns to Glasgow, the coffee shop working to end homelessness

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A new food spot has opened in the city centre with a mission to help people out of homelessness

The Edinburgh-born social enterprise/coffee shop chain that has provided opportunity and community to homeless people for more than ten years has returned to Glasgow. Social Bite opened a new premise at the bottom of Sauchiehall Street on 27 April, specifically at the area colliding with Buchanan Galleries.

Since its initial launch each new opening has evolved stylistically, a sentiment strengthened by this latest venture. It is described by the planning team as their most modern and elegant cafe to date, a design mission perhaps necessary due to the competitive location but definitely in line with the natural progression of the business. Green accents through tiling and seating decor as well as the industrial themed brick walls retain elements of consistency with even the earliest shops.

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“We wanted to do something different that would set us out from the crowd, give people a reason to pick us, walk up Buchanan Street in the rain, in the wind, and come to us over anybody else”, said Mel Swan, Social Bite’s commercial and operations director.

While the shop’s leading mission is to provide aid and community to people in need, the quality of product is also a factor that dominates their ethos, thus they work with a list of local suppliers to create the food and drink on their menu.

Freedom Bakery make the pastries, a Glaswegian commercial social enterprise know for their work with Scottish Prison Services, King Street’s Doh bake the artisan donuts, Bross Bagels and Brave Bakers contribute to lunch items, Greencity Wholefoods provide the grab and go section, while Matthew Algie roasts the coffee beans and trains staff.

Customers of Social Bite have the option to pay forward towards food and drink that can be used later by someone who cannot afford it, an initiative aimed primarily at the homeless community. Members of this community who want to find work can also embark on a 12 training programme where they learn barista, food prep and serving skills with the potential of part or full time employment upon completion. The organisation works with local charities and provides regular meals for those in need, and ensures certain support services are made available.

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The philanthropic nature of the brand was instigated over a decade ago when a homeless man entered Josh Littlejohn’s cafe seeking a job. While the man had no formal address - which for an employer can be a tedious barrier to overcome - the prospect that by taking him on could have a profound impact on his circumstances weighed eerily on Josh’s conscious and put the structure of entrepreneurship into perspective.

Josh then became a pioneer of a unique business model driven to support the homeless community, a mission that continues to be hailed successful. A third of Social Bite’s UK-wide staff base is comprised of people who have experienced living on the streets. As well as Glasgow and Edinburgh, the organisation also has premises in Aberdeen and London.

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