A big change out of small change

Yesterday, I posted this onto our Facebook and Twitter profiles:

“Today we put a price on our tea and coffee. It is a suggested minimum donation (50p for tea, £1 for coffee). We know this will be a shock to many people who value our pay as you feel ethos, and we encourage everyone to be as generous as possible with their contributions (the food menu is still pay as you feel). However, we are trialling this method to meet the ongoing cost of our bills and to ensure our volunteer team members are supported, trained and valued. We thank you in advance for your support.”

Ever since we first had the concept of the cafe, we wanted to make sure that money was not a barrier for participation. When we heard about The Real Junk Food Project’s ethos of pay-as-you-feel, that was a perfect fit for our vision, and we joined the network.

And I am proud to say that we have never gone into the red, always paid our bills on time, and had money to spare to invest in the project. However, most of these bills have been paid out of grant money -that is, money that we have applied for, and received, from pots of money from big businesses, local initiatives and supportive groups.

As a community business (i.e. not a charity) we aim to be self sufficient, and despite the fact that we don’t pay for most of our food or staff time, the money coming in to ToastLoveCoffee via the donation pots is, quite simply, not enough for us to be sustainable.

Three years on from our original pop up coffee mornings, we now have a permanent space to upkeep, utility bills to pay, volunteers to support, train, develop and nurture, and equipment to purchase and maintain.

So, what is the solution? We have really deliberated over the answer to that question; knowing that for many people, it is the very ethos of the pay as you feel concept that attracts them to TLC, and this change may be a massive barrier to overcome for them to return.

But please consider this; all our staff are volunteers. They put their heart and soul into the experience our customers have when entering our cafe. At the end of the shift, when the cafe has been buzzing with new conversations all morning, the cash gets counted up, and sometimes, all there is, is coppers. Small change. This has happened recently, and as well as being a massive worry for the longevity of ToastLoveCoffee, it is really demoralising to the team.

We know that for some people, they genuinely give as generously as they can, and it is coppers, and that is fine. It is more than fine, because they give wholeheartedly and with honesty. However,  we also know that for others, they see the pay as you feel concept as a way to get rid of the loose change in their wallet rather than truly putting a monetary value on the experience they are having.

We know that there are also many generous folk out there; there are often £notes, and the most common coin by far is the £1 -so we are reading into this that most people are happy to put in at least £1 for their experience. To them, we say thank you, and hope that this change will not affect them, seeing as they are putting those coins in the pot in any case.

I would seriously welcome all feedback to this change for ToastLoveCoffee; it is with a heavy heart that we have made this concession on the pay as you feel concept, and would welcome other ideas to try to ensure the sustainability and development of ToastLoveCoffee as a true community enterprise.

published by Anna Dyson
Founder and Director of ToastLoveCoffee. CEO of Dyson family, Roundhay (Leeds) branch which involves a huge array of skills impossible to imagine or articulate! Formerly, Jewish educator and community professional.


  1. posted by David Shepherd on Reply

    TLC is a wonderful cafe, a true community hub. I think that TLC putting a price on a cup of caffeinated drink is fine. You are not putting a barrier up to eating or to drinking, therefore those of us in need can still be fed and watered.

    Every time that I go into the cafe, I see at least one worker whose work, I presume, is greatly facilitated by this gathering point for people from a whole breadth of backgrounds. I hope that these workers are making a fitting contribution, i.e. more than the “coppers” that you mention.

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