Suffolk Business Awards: Meet the company changing lives one coffee at a time
- Credit: Charlotte Bond
Established by former army veteran and prison officer Nigel Seaman, the company operates two coffee shops in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds – which provide a “safe haven” for army veterans struggling with mental-health challenges, as well as their friends and families.
It also offers barista training and qualifications, giving veterans and prison inmates something to engage with and helping them develop skills to boost employment opportunities.
Having been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 12 years of army service, the experience of running Combat2Coffee has been as life-changing for Nigel as the people he helps.
“I’d suffered in silence for a considerable amount of time, but I’d always had this idea of doing something with coffee,” says Nigel.
He was sparked into action on Boxing Day in 2018. “That Christmas Day was probably the darkest I have been – but my daughter turned up early in the morning on Boxing Day, and that completely changed my outlook,” he continues. “I owed it to my kids to give this coffee thing a go.”
Nigel's idea for Combat2Coffee developed during a six-week course for combat stress. “There were nine people on my course, all going through their own traumas, but I was always a bit of a welfare man,” he explains. “I used to be the one making coffee for everyone.”
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Along with his team of volunteers, Nigel now serves coffee to fellow veterans at Combat2Coffee’s two sites – on Northgate Street, Ipswich and Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds. The venues provide an outlet for people to meet others who are going through similar challenges.
“The coffee shops offer a safe hub for people to come and have a brew and a chat – if they want to have a chat,” says Nigel. “We can't fix people, but we allow people to come in, and we will then signpost them and support them to get the help they need – and sometimes be the first stage of their recovery journey when they have previously been scared to take that step.”
Combat2Coffee also has a mobile coffee van so it can serve people who aren’t ready to step outside. “We serve our coffee to them at their front door, the next time we will serve it to them at the back of the van – and you never know, the third or fourth time we might be able to get them down to the shop,” says Nigel.
Serving coffee is only one part of the Combat2Coffee offering. As a registered education centre, it now offers an 18-week qualification course, giving veterans the chance to attain a nationally-recognised Level 2 qualification in barista skills.
It also runs Lansbury’s Roastery, a joint social enterprise with Hollesley Bay Prison, to support residents, staff and the wider community. Launched during the pandemic, it ensured Combat2Coffee could continue its work while the coffee shops were closed. “That was our lucky break,” says Nigel. “It gave us some sustainability during a very difficult time, and we're doing some other prison work off the back of it.”
The company has now received funding to employ a case manager, who can follow up with anyone who needs support. Subject to further funding, it hopes to expand into north Essex, south Norfolk and Lowestoft.
Winning a Suffolk Business Award has helped raise awareness of Combat2Coffee across the county – and beyond. “I'm very honoured to win that award,” says Nigel. “I know that if I help one veteran from the community, they'll go and spread the word about us, and that will help another person and then another person.”
Nigel's achievements are all the more impressive because his leg was amputated in September 2020. Having overcome physical challenges, he is slowly but surely overcoming psychological ones.
“For once I am actually comfortable with myself,” he says. “I do have wobbles weekly with my mental health – but I can at least pick myself up, dust myself down and then go again the next day.”
For more information, visit www.combat2coffee.co.uk