Finding Common Ground through a cuppa
According to Ben Pearson, our Regional Engagement Partner for North Queensland, the idea percolated from a Strategic Action Leadership Team meeting where it was recognised that 2020 projects couldn’t be carried out as scheduled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.
“The vision was the coffee cart would act like an office water cooler, where members of the Church would serve coffee to people from across the campus and local community in a welcoming environment,” Nick said.
“Before COVID-19, the Church and the school hired coffee carts so when COVID hit, I wondered if this was something we could be doing ourselves while we had some downtime,” he said.
Nick and Ben looked into purchasing a cart, but they weren’t aesthetically appealing and quite expensive, so Ben decided he would try and build one himself.
With a background in fabrication and welding, he knew he had the skill to do it. He had previously bought an old school coach and re-purposed it into a motor home – although it took four years to build. The coffee care project was to be far less intensive though, and since COVID-19 hit, his schedule had become lighter without the usual work travel. Therefore, he decided he had the capacity to take on this exciting project for the church.
With the initial vision for the cart to stay on campus, more brainstorming led to ideas for the cart to also serve at the neighbouring school and to engage directly with the community. With this need for mobility in mind, Ben took some measurements of another coffee cart to get an idea of the dimensions and specifications, and added bigger wheels to make it easier to move around.
The real challenge of the project was finding a solution to provide power to the coffee cart for the built-in fridge. Initially, there seemed there was no possible way to add power as it would be too expensive to install. This didn’t stop Ben – he did the electrical drawing himself to save money and then hired an electrician to make it compliant.
It took Ben over 200 hours to build the coffee cart, which he affectionately refers to as “a labour of love and a really fun project”.
Nick identified another opportunity to reach out to the community by partnering with a small coffee business, Bootleg Coffee. The owner of the business installed the machine and glass washer into the coffee cart and continues to provide the beans and other supplies.
The Common Grounds church has now employed a ministry intern Jan-Paul de Waal as the head barista and to lead the development of this initiative. He is getting to know many people across the campus by their coffee order and training volunteers from the community to be baristas.
The coffee cart has been very popular with the school, particularly with the teachers, who are delivered their orders by the school chaplain.
“I asked the school principal about advertising the coffee cart in the school newsletter. When I read the newsletter, she wrote the ‘Church is one of our biggest community partners’ in the introduction, which was heart-warming to read. The coffee cart has been the catalyst in building and fostering a good relationship with the school which continues to grow, including welcoming some of the school children who have become involved with our men’s shed,” Nick said.
There have been a few moments of truth for the benefits of the coffee cart. It has enabled generosity, been an ice-breaker and given us an excuse to pause and be present with each other.
Before Christmas last year, there was an opportune time to give the gift of free coffee to brighten people’s day – especially after a challenging year experienced by all.
The cart’s mobility has meant Nick was able to get out of the office and personally engage with passers-by and start a conversation. This opportunity has given so many people permission to share their story and lighten their load.
Nick said when the coffee cart was at Church services and functions, he would walk into the room and see the buzz of excited people who didn’t know about the coffee cart.
“It’s a tool of wellbeing - a natural social connector,” he said.
“I can schedule coffee meetings now with people from all walks of life and share this common campus experience. We also get people coming on-site for a one-off meeting with other organisations – saying ‘I had no idea this was here – I didn’t expect to have such a welcoming experience.’”
Nick said, “it’s very early days but it’s great to see people who don’t know each other meet around the coffee cart. It demonstrates bringing hope to the Community, with future ideas of training up people seeking employment on Sundays after church, to give them new barista skills to support unemployment in the local community.