Polmont cafe has the perfect social ingredients

Ania and Frazer hope social enterprise can become a hub for community spirit
Ania and Frazer hope social enterprise can become a hub for community spirit

Deciding where to have a coffee or spot of lunch might not seem the hardest decision to make, But wanting to see your money doing some good adds a whole different strand to the thought process.

The business world is changing. And the rise of social enterprises is challenging people to give more thought to where they shop and socialise.

The increasingly popular business model has been devised to offer employment and training opportunities for the young and old and, at the same time, provide a platform for volunteering and social activities that help communities thrive.

The Gingerbread Cafe in Polmont’s shopping centre might be of interest to anyone with those sort of ambitions.

It’s also a good cafe offering nice food and pleasant surroundings.

Family-run by Ania and Frazer Sandland, it is serving up all the ingredients needed to create a “hub” for community activity that will make a difference.

Ania has a degree in social science and Frazer, who does the cooking and baking, has been in the catering industry all his working life. Their combined backgrounds make them ideal for the venture.

Ania (33) said: “I wanted to do something meaningful, spread my wings. I really wanted to make a difference. Frazer was at a stage at work where he wanted a change, so we decided to combine our skills and do something together that would make a difference. A community cafe seemed the best way to go.

“I wanted to set up a community hub that everyone could use and, out of the hub, find out about other things needed in the community and bring them together. It’s slowly starting to happen but we need to let more people know what the cafe is about. Our plan is for people to use it as a meeting place either purely socially or as a place which various groups can use to hold meetings and arrange other local events.”

The couple managed to get the cafe off the ground in April this year thanks to a BP Loan, help from First Port - a body which assists social enterprises - and the Sons of the Rock Society. Advice came from Business Gateway, CVS Falkirk and Falkirk Council.

The Scottish Government provides a range of grants and there is money available from other sources designed to help people develop social enterprises. But you have to stick to the principles of running the operation either as a not-for-profit or non-profit business, with any surplus going to other good causes. Ania and Frazer have embraced that ethos with gusto.

You won’t hear Rhianna or One Direction in the cafe. Only music from unsigned local musicians is played, providing them with a platform to have their sounds heard.

Local artists, photographers and jewellery makers are also taking advantage of the free space the cafe offers by displaying their work hoping to attract buyers. The photos and artworks on the wall, all good quality products, have a price tag and are just wiating for a new home,

There has been a growing list of suggestions about activitiess the cafe could hold and the couple’s cheery and polite children, Lauren (10) and Scott (7), are getting in on the fun too. Lauren wants to hold an Uno card game competition in the cafe.

A handful of volunteers are driving forward the cafe’s vision of being a community hub, but the couple wants more people on board and build on early progress.

They have been funded to take on a new kitchen assistant, 17-year-old Liam Skinner from Falkirk, who snapped up the opportunity to learn skills in his quest to become a chef.

He said: “As soon as I saw the job advertised I went for it straight away. I think I’ll learn a lot here through Frazer and see it as an opportunity to help me reach my goals.”

Ania added: “I’m trying to set up things like craft workshops where things can be recycled rather than thrown out. I’ve got one artist who makes stuff and it looks great. There might be potential for a social entrepreneurs’ group. Someone wants to set it up and hold meetings here.

“One of the other main goals is to provide volunteering and job opportunities for young people and we’ve just taken on Liam, through Community Jobs Scotland which offers help to 16 to 19-year-olds for 39-week periods.”

She went on: “It will take a while to build things up but we’re getting there. We’ve had lots of volunteers in, but a lot have gone back to school or university.

“One of those students said he comes in because he doesn’t want to sit around the house playing his Xbox all day. He’s going to university soon and this type of thing will look good on his CV, showing that he is willing to get on and do things. I think that is a great for a young person, something that we definitely want to encourage.

“I’m constantly trying to build up the volunteer base and it takes up a lot of my focus to keep things afloat that way. I’d like a committee of regular volunteers, maybe meeting here every week or month and working out strategies and ideas for activities and events that will help the community interact.”

Karen Herbert, chief executive of CVS, Falkirk’s volunteering centre, is a champion of social enterprises and hopes to see more popping up across the district.

She said: “If you want to run your own business then obviously you want to make money out of it, I haven’t got a problem with that. But there needs to be a balance between making money and being part of the community. The social enterprise model is great for that.

“It’s a great way to do business and more people starting in business should think about going down the social enterprise route. It’s all about the community they’re in.”