Dan Pledger, manager of Citizen Coffee. Credit: Bryana Francis.

The coffee shop in an old horsebox that’s at the heart of the Cathays community

Citizen Coffee has trained 15 asylum seekers in barista work since it opened in 2020

REFUGEES and asylum seekers are being offered barista training and language help at a popular Cathays coffee haunt which is giving people “a place to belong”.

Located on busy Woodville Road, Citizen Coffee is housed in a converted horsebox selling a variety of hot and cold drinks as well as cakes. There’s a sheltered seating area, blankets and heaters so that it’s enjoyable all year round.

Citizen Coffee is a regular haunt for students, friends meeting for a coffee, and local businesses.

Since it opened in 2020, it has added something different to the Cardiff coffee scene, with a focus on social outreach. That includes training refugees and asylum seekers to be qualified baristas and giving customers the opportunity to buy a coffee for a stranger.

Citizen Coffee is located in the grounds of the Citizen Church.

The church is part of the Holy Trinity Brompton (HTB) network of churches, and it officially opened for services in April 2021. It hopes to be a church for the 99% of people in Wales who don’t usually meet to worship, and a place where people can belong.

Dan’s story

Dan Pledger is the manager of Citizen Coffee. He moved to Cardiff from Portsmouth in 2020 to help set up the church as well as Citizen Coffee. Dan runs a team of around 20 volunteers who serve brews from Monday to Thursday.

Dan spotted the horsebox on eBay, realised its potential and placed a bid. Despite being outbid, his persistence to get the van paid off and the sellers drove it down from the north east of England to Cathays.

Dan said: “We’re not just here to make money and to make profit, but we have a vision that is a lot wider than that. Part of that vision is we want people to be able to find community and find home and belonging.”

It’s this aim to give people a place to belong which is central to Citizen Coffee’s work.

Dan Pledger, manager of Citizen Coffee. Credit: Bryana Francis.

How they work with asylum seekers and refugees

So far, Citizen Coffee has trained 15 refugees and asylum seekers on their coffee van.

Of these, one has been given their living status – that’s indefinite leave to remain – and is now working in the coffee business. Dan believes their time at Citizen played a key role in this.

Citizen Coffee has a partnership with Oasis Cardiff, a charity with a vision “to help refugees and asylum seekers integrate within their local community”. Together, they empower refugees and asylum seekers through barista training.

They complete six to eight weeks of training during which they are partnered with another volunteer once a week. Throughout this process, they learn both barista and English language skills.

This is important because in the UK, refugees and asylum seekers are not allowed to work. This means once their living status is confirmed, they would have no relevant employment history on their CV. They may also struggle to speak English. These factors can hinder their ability to find work.

Citizen Coffee gives them a chance to get something practical out of that time, and they are able to do this because of their low overhead costs as a volunteer-run coffee establishment.

At the end of training, they receive a qualification. This is the Speciality Coffee Association’s (SCA) ‘Coffee Skills Program’. It’s a qualification that is recognised across the coffee industry, as well as outside of the UK. This is crucial because it means that if they don’t receive their living status here, they can still take a valuable skill with them.

The majority of asylum seekers and refugees they have trained have been from South America, including El Salvador and Nicaragua.

Archie Thompson, volunteer at Citizen Coffee. Credit: Bryana Francis.

Archie Thompson, one of the volunteers at Citizen Coffee and a maths student at Cardiff University, has loved his experience working with refugees on the coffee van.

“Last year I worked with an asylum seeker from Nigeria,” he said. “They received training once a week and were lovely and good fun to work with.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet these people, as you wouldn’t normally meet them in everyday life, especially as a student.”

Other businesses are full of praise for the work Citizen does.

Esther Gibbs, owner of Hope Espresso, explained that the speciality coffee industry in the UK is “pretty white centric”, and male heavy. She said that the work Citizen do, isn’t simply promoting diversity but it’s empowering people from different backgrounds.

Asylum seekers and refugees in Wales

The most recent data on asylum seekers in Wales is from Wales’ Strategic Migration Partnership in 2022. This states that as of 2022, there were 7,600 asylum seekers supported under Section 95, making up 0.24% of Wales’ population.

Of these asylum seekers, 3,911 were given dispersed accommodation in Cardiff, 2,076 in Swansea, and 1,166 in Newport. Dispersed accommodation is longer-term temporary accommodation.

What is Section 95? The Home Office says it’s the provision, or plan for the provision of, support for asylum seekers or dependants of asylum seekers who appear to be destitute or likely to become destitute within a prescribed period.

The graph below shows how the number of asylum seekers in Wales was at its highest in 2020. The government are still dealing with this backlog.

There’s a ‘pay it forward’ scheme, too

Citizen Coffee also operates a ‘pay it forward’ scheme. This is the concept that you can pay for an extra coffee, enabling someone else who is less fortunate to enjoy one for free.

This idea came about because the church wanted their coffee to be as accessible as possible for everyone.

Dan said: “We were thinking ‘what are the things that might be a barrier to stop people from coming in and participating, and then try and work out what can we do?’ Obviously one of those barriers is money.

“People have been so unbelievably generous – so many students as well. They are just so happy to be like ‘just chuck that one on’.”

The free coffees are handed out to a variety of people – that can be someone who is having a bad day, students at the end of their loan or people who are in tough situations.

People have been so unbelievably generous – so many students as well

Dan Pledger

The future

Over Christmas, the team are holding a refugee and asylum seeker Christmas dinner. Most of the people who are coming to this have been volunteering at Citizen Coffee, and the invite has also been extended to their family and friends.

Citizen Coffee has already got more refugees and asylum seekers booked in and paid for to complete the barista training in the new year. Dan hopes they will find a sense of community at the coffee van.

  • Citizen Coffee is located in the grounds of Citizen Church on Woodville Road, CF24 4DX.
  • It’s open Monday – Thursday, from 9 – 4pm. It re-opens after Christmas on January 2 2024.
  • You can find Citizen Coffee on Instagram @citizencoffeeuk.