Paper & Cup Café: Interview with Brent Clark

Great coffee that hits the spot. An absorbing book to escape into. And the simple pleasure of the two combined. There are many charming coffee bookshops around the city but this one offers a difference. Paper & Cup is a not-for-profit social enterprise that first opened two years ago in Poplar and has recently expanded to Shoreditch.  It is run by charity Spitalfields Crypt Trust (SCT), which aims to help recovering addicts.

We talk to the brainchild of the business, Brent Clark, about Shoreditch’s first recovery café.


Tell us about Paper & Cup Café. Was there a personal inspiration behind setting it up?

Paper & Cup was an idea that sprung out of us setting up a painting and decorating social enterprise. That enterprise was attracting men in recovery and I wanted something that would attract women, and men who weren’t suited to the construction side of things. I also wanted something that was aspirational, social and would engage regularly with the general public. I like coffee, I like books, so it sprung from there really. At SCT, we are passionate about being innovative for people in recovery for addiction. We had no experience in running a coffee shop whatsoever, so we got a bunch of people to help us and the result was our perfectly crafted little coffee bookshop in the heart of Shoreditch.

It’s a brilliant and safe way for these recovering addicts to ease back into the labour market and take positive steps forward – do you find it is primarily the attached stigma that has hindered the opening of more recovery enterprises around London?

Reducing stigma is one of the central aims of Paper & Cup. We wanted to bring recovery out into the community and out of the mystery of rehabs and AA rooms. How better to meet someone in recovery and reduce stigma than have them make you your morning cappuccino. Likewise for people in recovery to begin to feel more integrated into their community again, how better than have them work in a coffee shop that has regular and loyal customers. Stigma in addiction is a deep-rooted problem that needs addressing. Society stigmatises addicted people, but it’s a two way deal – people in recovery stigmatise themselves too. I believe we are all a bit screwed up and have stuff we need to deal with, and the sooner we appreciate this, walls begin to break down.

What have former barista trainees of your Poplar branch gone on to do?

When people start the training programme at P&C, our main aim is to grow confidence and self-esteem. I tell trainees they may well learn that they really don’t want to be a barista or work in hospitality. We have been able to employ some of our trainees in our sister site in Bow, we had someone go on to the Pret a Manger and someone else working in a restaurant kitchen. However, we also have a tree surgeon and a nursery worker.

What is the biggest struggle you have faced in the establishment of Paper & Cup?

Getting our heads round running a coffee shop. In the early days (we’ve been open 2 years), it was chaotic! Running this kind of business is hard enough – add to the mixture working with people with complex needs – it has been quite a journey. However, we now have good structures in place now and amazing staff. The future is bright!

What does the future hold for Paper & Cup? Do you plan to open more branches around the city?

Watch this space – we have two very exciting projects coming up. My dream was that P&C would be a chain where great coffee, sublime second-hand books and the message that abstinent recovery is attainable could spread around and out of London. We have just hired a Business Manager (I am NO business man) so there is real potential for the future.