WHEN the Southend Street Pastors first approached cafes asking them to give away free coffees to the homeless, they were politely sent packing.

Most didn’t want to associate with those living on the street.

But thanks to Utopia Cafe taking a chance on the Suspended Coffees scheme a year ago, more than 1,000 hot drinks have now been handed out to some of our most vulnerable people.

The knock-on effect is more traders are following Utopia’s lead – and it’s hoped the project is slowly changing perceptions of the homeless and confronting the stigma attached to sleeping rough.

The scheme is simple.

Coffee drinkers buy an extra cup from participating cafes, which is logged and handed out later to someone in need.

Del Thomas, who co-ordinates Southend’s street pastor team, pushed for the project because he was desperate to reach out to those less fortunate.

But he admits it was a struggle initially to convince some people the homeless were worthy of help – and not just nuisance drunks.

Mr Thomas is heavily involved with helping homeless people through his street pastors work.

He said: “When I saw a piece about Suspended Coffees on social media sites, I thought it would be a good idea to set it up in Southend.

“I was rebuffed by most cafes, but Utopia said it was a good idea and, on September 1 last year, they sold their first ‘suspended coffee’.”

A year on, it seems the scheme is on the up.

For example, Anke’s cafe in London Road, Westcliff, has recently joined up.

The owners of a new cafe due to open in October, in West Road, Westcliff, near Oldham’s fish and chips, are also keen to get involved.

They are even considering offering suspended breakfasts.

Mr Thomas added: “My hope is for more cafes to get involved and that other places may even offer suspended meals or sandwiches.

“The benefits for businesses is they don’t lose money for doing something good.

“Originally, Steve Holford from Utopia said that his view of rough sleepers was they smelt, or they were drunks – but his view has completely changed.

“He thinks the Suspended Coffees scheme is fantastic. “ The scheme is not only for rough sleepers, though.

One of Del’s fondest memories is helping a young single mumwith nowhere to turn.

He said: “I was volunteering at a pop-up shop in The Royals, run by local churches, and there were two young girls sat on a bench.

“There was a young baby screaming and the mum looked exhausted, so I went over to chat. It turned out she was a 15-year-old single mum.

“Her parents had kicked her out and she was living in supported housing.

“I explained about the suspended coffee scheme and she burst into floods of tears, saying I had just made her day.

“All I had done was offer her a free cup of coffee and it made such a huge difference.”

  • For more information about the scheme, search Facebook for Southend Suspended Coffees.