Forget pay-by-the-minute or one guilty coffee an hour when you’re freelancing. You don’t have to spend a thing at Honest Coffee – but you’ll probably want to.
Just over the Irwell in Salford, you’ll find Honest Coffee, a co-operative café that sets itself aside from your run-of-the-mill espresso shack: this isn’t just a coffee shop, it’s also a free co-working and events space. Desks, chairs and power sockets are all provided for the benefit of Mancunian freelancers – even without the purchase of a beverage.
The project was funded through Kickstarter and a grant from the Royal Society of Arts, and much of the furniture and furnishings have come from community donations; the counter itself is an upcycled pew from a local church. Honest Coffee’s suppliers also come from within a five-mile radius of the Chapel Street shopfront, with locally roasted coffee, and baked goods coming from fresh from Chorlton’s famous Barbakan Deli.
“At lunchtimes we’re always busy – like, you can’t get a seat busy – which is amazing”
Free to use, within three minutes’ walk of Manchester Cathedral and with train and tram links only five minutes away at Victoria Station, it’s no surprise that the upstairs space is already well in use, with the main café host to a range of art exhibits and events like a series of classes on everyday economics. Best of all, the busier Honest Coffee is, the better it is for the local community; all profits from the café go towards grants for creative entrepreneurs in the area. However, Honest Coffee isn’t done yet – the shop’s still being worked on and the spacious cellar below is currently under refurbishment as a rehearsal studio.
Art collective Future Artists developed the initiative following the success of their previous pop-up venture The Great Northern Playhouse, a black box theatre next to Grindsmith’s spot in the Great Northern Warehouse. I dropped by Honest Coffee to speak with founder of Future Artists, Mark Ashmore, about the new project.
JW: Hi Mark, so how long has Honest Coffee been open now and how are you finding it?
MA: This is our sixth week. People say it feels like we’ve been here a while, that we feel like a home – it’s got that kind of feel to it. This building’s been here for over 100 years; it’s not a shiny glass building, it’s got a richness to it. We’ve opened something that’s so radically new, and although it’s a busy street, it is a little bit out of the way; we didn’t realise there would be so many local businesses in the area that would use this space for meetings and have their dinner with us. At lunchtimes we’re always busy – like, you can’t get a seat busy – which is amazing! There’s loads of art hubs around here, with Islington Mill obviously right at the top there, so this really is a creative mile.
JW: What are the advantages of co-working in a café like Honest coffee?
MA: There are three tables here and everyone’s doing different things. There are more freelancers in the country than there’s ever been before – two million, I think? They can’t all work in their bedrooms, and when they want to network, they can’t all go to wine and canapé nights – people have children. This allows people to have a conversation and to get involved.
JW: Tell me a little bit about how the money that goes into the café is spent.
MA: It’s run as a co-operative, so all the profits go into the middle and we put money out as grants to people. So when we do a call to access these grants, the people who’ve visited can access the money that they’ve spent over the counter and put it into a project. Honest Coffee cost fourteen thousand pounds to set up, that was it. If we can do that – then why can’t we do them all over the UK? That’s what we want to do. This is a pilot project, we’re going to have ten in the next five years across the UK.