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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

TFN is published by the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations, Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh, EH3 6BB. The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) is a Scottish Charitable Incorporated Organisation. Registration number SC003558.

Cafés with a conscience: capital service in city centre gem

This feature is about 4 years old

This month’s review of a social enterprise eatery sees Susan Smith visit the Grassmarket Café, a popular stop off for locals and tourists in Edinburgh’s old town

It’s a wet and windy Wednesday morning as I battle my way through Edinburgh’s Grassmarket tripping over a half-empty beer can that splashes its contents all over my legs – what a relief to enter to the warm and welcoming Grassmarket Café.

I’ve delayed breakfast, so am pretty eager for an egg roll and a latte. Even though it’s not advertised I ask for some mushrooms too, and Janie on the café counter says she’ll ask the kitchen staff what they can do. A few minutes later my morning gets a lot better as I tuck into a very satisfying fresh breakfast roll, generously overflowing with scrambled egg and seasoned mushrooms.

Celebrity chef Tom Kitchin once said the Grassmarket Café has the best coffee in Edinburgh, and who am I to disagree. The creamy latte is just as good as anything you’d get in more mainstream city cafés.

Janie has been working in the café for three years. She started out as a volunteer, turning to the café when her two sons got older and she found herself looking for a way to develop new friends and skills.

After six months, she was offered two days a week as a paid employee and still chooses to volunteer one day a week.

It feels pretty bustling first thing, but Janie dismisses that: “We get tour groups coming in at lunchtime because of our partnership with Sandemans, which runs tours of Edinburgh’s old town. So 12.15 to 1pm is the busy time and it can get really, really intense so you don’t get much time to sit down.”

The café is run by 2018’s Scottish Social Enterprise of the Year, the Grassmarket Community Project (GCP). Its members are local homeless people or those facing barriers to employment and social integration – such as people with disabilities, mental health problems or addictions. Members get a 20% discount at the café and free access to GCP’s programme of activities, ranging from volunteering in the café or kitchen to wider job skills, benefits support, photography, music and yoga.

Most members find volunteering in the café a bit too intense, says Janie. However, GCP’s newest recruit, 20-year-old Cameron, doesn’t let that faze him. Cameron left school two years ago, and was out of work for a year before signing up to Edinburgh College’s Project Search initiative, which works with young people with disabilities to help them find employment.

Cameron started as a catering and events assistant seven weeks ago and is loving it. He helps serve food in the café and sets up tea and coffees and lunches for events. He also helps with clearing up and washing the dishes.

“It’s a bit stressful when the tour people come in, but it doesn’t put me off. It’s going really well,” he says.

Lunch choices include a soup of the day and a range of baked potatoes, paninis, wraps and sandwiches with fresh salad. But outside of the lunchtime rush, it’s the coffee and cakes that attract a steady stream of local regulars.

The choice selection of cakes and tray bakes makes it hard to know what to take away to try later. Cameron recommends the flapjack, but I go with Janie’s cherry and sultana fruit cake tip. A fluffy sponge packed full of fruit and topped with a deliciously sugary glaze goes down beautifully with a decaf coffee back at the office.

This is a brilliant café in a great location, including outdoor seating for better days than this. It’s a must visit for café with a conscience lovers visiting the centre of Edinburgh.



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