On 21st October 2011, the doors to the Cookie Bar in Hindhead opened to the public marking the beginning of a fantastic new social enterprise. We take a quick look at what’s been happening since…
With a varied menu offering both savoury dishes and desserts to complement their selection of hot and cold beverages, you already have reason enough to stop by, however, the true impact of the Cookie Bar simply adds to its appeal. A socially responsible café, 100% of the profits are reinvested back into Stepping Stones School so as a customer you can feel confident that your purchase is going towards something that you will be proud to be part of.
“I like serving customers. I like talking to them.” Student
However, the main purpose of the Cookie Bar is not related to profits, its goal is much more focussed on the local community and supporting the students from Stepping Stones in a non-monetary capacity. For many individuals the Cookie Bar plays an important part of their education and personal development and students visit the Cookie Bar for work placements during their school day, where they gain valuable work experience learning how a business operates. Acting as a safe and forgiving environment, it provides an opportunity to develop confidence; interacting with customers, operating the till or working in the kitchen. In the past year, 24 students have engaged in placements in the Cookie Bar with 240 individual sessions being delivered.
“The staff are very welcoming and supportive.” Student
Opening them up to a wider market, the Cookie Bar also runs a subscription cookie service, offering national distribution to individuals and groups looking for a regular delivery of these cookies with a conscience. This has proved a successful addition, with seventeen companies currently signed up for a regular delivery with scope to take on more in the future. The Cookie Bar also has a presence in the Slough COINS office, allowing staff to gain an insight into the work that we are doing whilst encouraging employees to get involved, whether that’s through; volunteering, subscription cookie sales or even supporting them with social media.
In May 2018, the Cookie Bar became a member of Surrey Hills Enterprises and gained the Trade Mark Surrey Hills award, a mark of local provenance and quality. The Cookie Bar is one of the social enterprises supporting COINS Foundation, whose projects concentrate on changing perception, creating action and working to use business to create abetter and more sustainable future. In line with this, the Cookie Bar has recently developed a partnership with the popular ‘COOK’ products, offering a perfect solution for those wanting a freshly made meal but lacking the time to make it from scratch. COOK’s commitment to; minimising food waste, improving efficiency and supporting social enterprises resonated well with our values, making them a great addition to the Cookie Bar’s products and an exciting organisation to work with.
The success of this enterprise would not be possible without both the staff and the support of loyal volunteers, who contribute their time to work in the shop and in the kitchen with the students. As a social enterprise, the Cookie Bar values its volunteers enormously; their contribution is invaluable in lowering the break-even point of the café and therefore increasing the available profit to be returned to the school.
In 2015, a Route master double decker bus was converted into a mobile Cookie Bar, and the Cookie Bar Bus was born. The bus follows the same values as the Cookie Bar and allows us to take this fantastic enterprise further afield to local events. Last year the bus attended over 50 days of events and was recently featured on the BBC Surrey breakfast show, with a lovely interview from one of the Stepping Stones pupils. The bus is always a popular attraction at events, and the year ahead is already looking very busy both with return visits to events from previous years as well as new venues and enquiries coming in. As with the flagship store, the bus relies on volunteers in order to be able to operate whilst keeping costs down; as awareness increases, so does the number of individuals keen to contribute their skills for a few hours aboard the eye-catching big red bus. In 2018, over 50 volunteers supported the bus at events, including; COINS staff, Stepping Stones parents, Stepping Stones pupils, previous pupils as well as teaching assistants and other friends and families connected to these groups.
“I liked working on the Cookie Bar bus. It was different.” Student
To see some of the students taking on the Cookie Bar Bus during busy events, and not only enjoying the experience but thriving, demonstrates the success of the work experience programme and the impact the right opportunity can have on an individual.
“I enjoyed working the till on the bus. It was my favourite job.”
So, what’s next for the Cookie Bar and the Bus? If nothing else, I hope we will see more students coming out of their shell and successfully progressing onto the next phase in their careers…