A charity owned café has breathed new life into a disused building on Hawick High Street, and aims to stimulate employment in the area.
The Almond Tree offers work placements to young and vulnerable people, with all profits being reinvested back into Borders youth projects.
The local community has welcomed the initiative, which was launched by Jenni and Andrew Green at the end of June, with support from Business Gateway, Jenni said: “We approached Business Gateway in November, when Andrew attended a number of free workshops, which gave him confidence in financial forecasting, and helped him brush up on accounting.
“Our Business Adviser, Annie, then became involved and has been providing ongoing support, including signposting funding available from the local council’s Scottish Borders Business Fund, which we put towards the refurbishment of the café.”
Originally from Essex, Jenni and Andrew took early retirement seven years ago, before moving to the Scottish Borders to fulfil Andrews’s lifelong dream of owning a small holding and becoming self-sufficient.
“We’re members of Hawick Community Baptist Church, where we’re involved with the local youth group, which now has 25 members.”
“It became clear to us that some of these members will go to University, others will have no problem finding work, but a number of them, for many reasons including ADHD, social disadvantage and learning difficulties, will struggle. It’s this category of youth that has inspired the project.”
Despite not having any catering experience, Andrew and Jenni set up the charity, Hawick Community Café. The church purchased the property, which it leases back to the charity.
“Andrew previously worked in banking and finance for a counselling charity, while I’m a retired nurse manager, but have management experience in setting up new services in the voluntary sector, so we have good experience in this field” said Jenni.
The café is staffed by a number of volunteers, plus Job Share Managers and Volunteer Coordinator/Assistant Manager. The volunteer database is growing, although they have not quite managed to get all shifts covered yet.
“The community has rallied round the charity in various ways. We’ve received very generous donations, words of encouragement, and gifts of items, along with expertise, offers of volunteering and support from the Community Council.
“We’ve been told that members of the public are proud of what they feel they are able to do for their own youth, and pleased to see an empty building brought back to life.”
Annie Watt, Business Adviser, Business Gateway Scottish Borders, said: “The Almond Tree is a really positive boost to the area. We’ve been delighted to support this charitable venture and will continue to work with Jenni and Andrew to connect them further to the social enterprise sector and develop their marketing and social media strategy.”
Jenni said: “It’s still early days but we have lots of exciting plans, which include expanding our take away facility, raising funds for more equipment and building up our rota of local artists to display their work in the café.
“We’re also looking forward to bringing into place some more of our charitable aims. We aspire to be a listening ear, and a help with form-filling, sign-posting those with debt problems to the CAB facility.”