In this month’s look at how local charities have coped throughout lockdown, we caught up with Carrie Mertens, the director of Safi Coffee CIC, to find out how this inspiring school project has continued to thrive, and what the future holds for the student-led charity
Safi Coffee is run by Hull Collegiate School and supported by local businesses and grant funding, importing coffee from Southwest Uganda to sell to coffee-lovers across the UK. All profits from the sale of the coffee are used to directly fund Ugandan children to attend school in their country. Each year, Hull Collegiate School sponsors 26 children at Great Lakes High School, Uganda and every two years a team of pupils and staff travel to the East African country to teach and support students in the Kanungu District.
The initiative was founded in 2015 by Hull Collegiate School staff and students following their bi-annual school trip to Uganda, which has taken place since 2009. During their visit, which was was led by Chris Wainman, the deputy head of Hull Collegiate School, the students were taken to a coffee plantation and it was there that they discovered that the coffee grown in the region is arguably one of the best-tasting coffees in the world – benefitting from rich organic soils and traditional farming techniques. The word Safi means pure and fresh in Swahili, and the team knew that the coffee grown around the school sites could be a key to change.
The unique project was created with the aim of enriching the lives of of the Ugandan children by providing much-needed education with the profits from the coffee sales – which Carrie describes as a ‘light-bulb moment’ for those who visited the plantation.
‘Education in Uganda is sought after by families and they are also low on equipment,’ Carrie says. ‘It only costs £180 to fund a child to attend school for a full year which includes accommodation, food, uniform and healthcare. The teachers are very good and fully-qualified, and children tend to go there at different times in their lives, and at different ages.’
The project has also developed the skills of Hull Collegiate School students. That summer, the school kickstarted a programme to develop Safi Coffee, and local businesses provided expertise and knowledge for importing, managing, roasting and branding the product.
‘That’s really important to us,’ Carrie adds. ‘We want the students to lead this, and they love it as well. They’re learning so many new skills including business and marketing. It’s exceeded our expectations.’
Now, five years since it began, Safi Coffee CIC turns over around £30,000 each year and has funded 45 pupils through education in
Uganda. The project has continued to be a success and led to Safi Coffee winning an award for Outstanding Contribution for International Understanding at the Independent Schools Association Awards.
Hull Collegiate School students have led the project from the start. ‘The children came up with the logo, which was designed by one of our students who is now a graduate in illustration,’ Carrie adds.
Recently, the school began to collaborate with two other independent schools – Highgate School in London and Felsted School in Essex – both of which have strong links with Uganda and regularly visit. They are now working hard to launch Safi Coffee into their communities too, and Highgate School sold more than £1,000 worth of coffee in their first few months of involvement.
It is clear that the project is expanding rapidly through these partnerships as well as a new Student Brand Ambassador Programme. An original member of the team revisited the school to help share the Safi Coffee story with those in Higher Education and a masters student at Durham University, Olivia, now networks across the university to build a team of Student Ambassadors who can support Safi Coffee on a voluntary basis.
Thankfully, lockdown didn’t put a stop to Safi Coffee’s growth and the team have continued to work hard with the new partnership. ‘We can keep churning out coffee beans as much as it’s needed,’ Carrie explains. ‘We got around three tonnes from Uganda before lockdown which are arriving soon. There’s lots of regular subscriptions too – it’s not just a beautiful-tasting coffee, it’s also very high quality and a lot of buisinesses use it on that basis.’
At the moment, half of the profit is sent to Uganda and the other half goes into the business to help it grow, and Carrie hopes the continued success will help to sponsor more children and also help them get the facilities they need to continue learning.
Safi Coffee is roasted and packaged at the UK’s leading coffee roaster, Lincoln & York, and it is sold through its official website, Hull Collegiate School, in local retailers, hospitality outlets and internationally. More than six tonnes of coffee has been imported and the product range has grown from coffee beans, ground coffee and coffee bags to cups, gift sets and accessories.