‘So much untapped talent’: New Islington cafe is helping refugees into employment

Lydia Gebereywhanes wants to open her own Eritrean restaurant. Photograph: Julia Gregory

“I like customer service because I grew up with people, to chat with them, I like that,” said barista Lydia Gebereywhanes.

She is one of the team working at Trampoline, a new cafe in Islington’s popular Camden Passage.

It grew from an idea brewed up during the pandemic by Pranav Chopra.

He runs the Nemi Teas company, which distributes tea to a network of 500 cafes and provides employment to refugees.

They stay with the project for six to 12 months before moving into other work with its help.

People come from countries as diverse as Pakistan, Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Sri Lanka, Iran and Afghanistan, with the support of Groundwork London.

Chopra said for some it was the first time they’d had a payslip and a pension.

He realised that the pandemic meant people were less likely to buy takeaway tea. Instead, his staff went to work at some of the cafes the company supplies.

In February, they opened Trampoline, which sells tea and coffee, cakes and sandwiches. It also has a drinks licence.

Cafe owner Pranash Chopra with barista Lydia. Photograph: Julia Gregory

Chopra said getting the alcohol licence from Islington Council was essential to make the business sustainable, with companies facing the double hit of Covid and cost-of-living challenges.

He said: “We are an amazing cafe with amazing food.”

Staff get training through a foundation run by the Goring Hotel and earn the London Living Wage.

“There is so much untapped talent, you could not ask for anything better, their ethos is great,” Chopra added.

Gebereywhanes said: “I learnt everything from room service to housekeeping and ironing and events at the St Paul’s Hotel in Covent Garden, and I learnt about coffee at the Air Press Cafe.”

A keen coffee drinker who loved her daily brew in her home country of Eritrea, she trained in the technical aspects of making lattes, cappuccinos and espressos.

Now she enjoys meeting regulars and tourists attracted by Camden Market’s independent shops and vintage stores.

Before the pandemic, she worked in housekeeping and had experience of customer service at her family’s supermarket in Eritrea.

She would eventually like to become a sous chef and open her own restaurant – with Eritrean food on the menu.

Trampoline is one of a series of social enterprise food businesses making Islington their home.

Migrateful runs a cookery school at the Peel Institute, Clerkenwell, with classes run by migrant chefs who showcase food from their home countries.

They face legal and language barriers to work and Migrateful aims “to empower and celebrate our chefs on their journey to employment and independence”.