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Celebrating Leaps & Grounds, the British Red Cross’ coffee project

Our innovative social enterprise helped craft the careers of dozens of refugee women.

Our Leaps & Grounds coffee kiosk was founded because refugee women face some of the highest barriers to integration in the UK.

Employment helps people build relationships, confidence, improves English, connections with others, and improves mental wellbeing and recovery.  It's also the most important factor for integration into a new country. 

Through a blend of professional barista training, paid work experience, and one-to-one mentoring, the project supported 35 women between September 2021 and March 2023.

Leaps & Grounds started as an idea for a pop-up cafe run by refugee women, the winner of a British Red Cross Ideas Challenge in 2020.

It was inspired by the Syrian Dinner Project, which not only enabled women involved to move towards financial independence but also helped them connect with their local community.

Through work with the Innovation team, refugees, asylum seekers and caseworkers, the pop-up cafe became the Leaps & Grounds coffee cart, based outside our HQ in Moorgate and also our Brixton site in south London. 

Both sites were extremely popular with the local communities, serving a host of local workers their morning brew.

While evolving into something different from the original idea, it still met the same goals as the initial cafe project: improving the wellbeing of refugee women and supporting them into volunteering, voluntary work or paid employment.

More hopeful about the future

Women were referred to our programme – either through our internal Refugee Services, our network of over 35 partner organisations, or through word of mouth.

These women received specialty barista training with our associate coffee partners, Caravan Coffee Roasters, to develop the skills they needed to begin making and serving speciality coffee.

We then offered them three months paid work experience at one of the Leaps & Grounds sites. Five graduates were promoted to become the supervisor baristas at our sites, helping to train the next cohort of leapers.

We also matched them with a mentor to develop personal and professional goals. They worked together to define their next steps after leaving our programme, including job applications, CV writing, and interview preparation.

By the end of the programme in March, every woman who had taken part felt more hopeful about their future, 80% felt more confident about their English language skills and over 70% were in long term employment or further study.

Meet Ornella

Ornella, a 27-year-old mother of two, arrived in the UK seven years ago after fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo. She struggled getting settled in a new country without her children and family, work or refugee status, but found a safe space at the British Red Cross to talk about her experiences.

In March 2023, Ornella got her first job at Leaps & Grounds, which she felt gave her good work experience for the future. She enjoys working in customer service, and chatting and laughing with everyone who comes by.


Leila's story

With a 17-year career in teaching maths in Iran, Leila arrived in the UK one year ago, not knowing English and worried that she will ever be able to teach again. 

Having enrolled in college to study English and practising every day at home, Leila looked to find an employment programme that would support her in being able to practice her English in a real-life setting, whilst feeling supported in doing so.

She joined Leaps & Grounds in January 2023 and said: “My colleagues are so kind and helpful, I enjoy going to work, I see my English improving and that is what I need.”

Leila hopes to teach maths again one day and work in schools or training centres in the UK, but also has grown a passion for coffee and would like to continue in this line of work until then. 

She was matched with her British Red Cross mentor, Samantha, and they used the space to practice English for half of each session and focusing on Leila’s short and long-term goals during the other half.

Navigating life in the UK

Our teams at the British Red Cross have been so moved by the impact that becoming part of the Leaps & Grounds community has had on every single participant. The sense of belonging, confidence, and joy that has developed has been immense.

It has transformed lives. Participants have gone on to gain full time employment, enrol in higher education, and learn how to confidently navigate life in the UK for themselves and their loved ones.

The project has now ended, but we will maintain our focus on asylum seekers in destitution – especially women and children, who make up 43% of people seeing asylum in the UK.

Every refugee matters to us

We work with refugees and people seeking asylum to help them feel safe, live with dignity and build a new life. If, like us, you believe that every refugee matters, get involved by donating below.