Southern Co-op supports Pay It Forward scheme at local Portsmouth café

The initiative was suggested by staff and volunteers at Portsmouth's Café in the Park, some of whom had experienced living on the streets.

A local café in Portsmouth has launched a Pay it Forward scheme to enable customers to buy a hot drink or snack for those in need. The project follows a successful pilot scheme that was supported by Southern Co-operative.

Through the scheme, customers can buy a voucher for £2, which can be exchanged for a drink or a seasonal snack at the café. The project was suggested by staff and volunteers at Portsmouth’s Café in the Park, some of whom had experienced living on the streets.

Among them is 43-year old Leon Joseph, an employee at café, who suffered a short period of homelessness due to drug addiction, which led to crime and a prison sentence.

He said: “I was on the streets when it was snowing and freezing cold. Members of the public coming up to me and saying would you like a hot drink meant the world to me. Just to have that hot drink on a cold day is massive.”

The café is run by the Hampshire-based homelessness charity, Society of St James (SSJ). The charity will ensure the vouchers are given to someone facing multiple disadvantages such as homelessness, poverty and/or substance misuse.

Mike Taylor, operations director at the SSJ, said: “The Society of St James is working in Portsmouth to provide support and housing for vulnerable adults including emergency accommodation and a day centre.

“Cafe in the Park is a place where we have been able to support a volunteering opportunity for Leon and several others to help get them back on their feet. Now in return, they want to ‘Pay It Forward’ and help show others that help is out there – even if it is just a cup of tea.”

Prior to the official launch on 2 July, the Southern Co-operative supported the café to pilot the Pay It Forward scheme. Around 150 vouchers had already been sold before the launch.

Mr Joseph added: “Some people find it hard to approach somebody if they are out on the streets. So this gives them a different way of helping.

To mark the launch a ribbon was cut by Enzo Riglia, Hampshire’s assistant police crime commissioner, which supports SSJ alongside Portsmouth City Council.

Chris Johnston-Griffiths, 50, who works in the kitchen at Café in the Park, said: “I’ve come from over 30 years of substance abuse. Working at the café helps me feel like I am being a productive person by linking back into society. I do suffer from social anxiety and social awkwardness and I do have depression from time to time.

“I ended up homeless sleeping on the beaches, sleeping in bin sheds. It was after my last suicide attempt that I realised I couldn’t go on living like this anymore. It’s been very hard. It’s cost me a lot. It really has.

“For me, personally, it is really rewarding to know that people from the streets are able to come in, ground themselves, have a cup of coffee or a bite to eat. All I wanted while I was out there was someone to talk nicely to me not down to me.

“We are able to chat to them, we can signpost them to the right places. A cup of tea meant the world. It was like that proverbial pat on the back and so it is nice to be able to reciprocate and do the same and pass it on.”

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