Blurred edges

This is Part 2 of the Millie and Me story…

Armed with her financial forecasts and projected footfalls, Sophie applied for a bank loan and was surprised, after she’s supplied all her spreadsheets, that they offered one over the phone. “I’ve never even met my bank manager,” she says.

“So you went from not knowing how anything works to being able to present your case and persuade the bank to loan you £10,000?”

“Yes, it’s amazing isn’t it?”

Once the application for a ‘change of use’ was approved, the lease was drawn up and the shop was theirs. “How long from getting the keys to opening up?” I ask.

“Six weeks,” she says, slowly, as if she’s re-living every moment of it. “We’re still doing the finishing touches.

“I had the decor in mind the moment I walked into the place and we’ve managed to do it just the way I imagined it. Apart from getting someone in to do the electrics, James has done it all. He’s laid the floor, built the kitchen – he’s also a qualified plumber – he’s done everything. I’m so lucky because it’s saved us thousands of pounds in shopfitting.”

On the furthest wall they’ve made a feature of some pink and silver fleur-de-leys-type wallpaper. The pink and white chairs give the place a contemporary feel which is contrasted by the long wooden church pew against one wall. It’s well done.

There’s a chalkboard that’s been promoting today’s specials: individual choritzo pitta pizzas and, for the less adventurous, a cheese and bacon quiche. Another board lists coffees at prices less than our local Costa.

“How did the name Millie and Me come about?”

“That took a long time,” says Sophie. “Millie wasn’t keen at first. But we couldn’t think of anything else and it just seemed to fit so well. She agreed eventually and now she’s really proud of it.”

“And how, do you think, starting up this business has affected you and your daughter?”

“I would say, emotionally, we took a massive risk. The set-up period has been quite stressful for us all and only now are things settling down. Millie is doing much of the baking and earning an income from that.” Millie’s Brownies are a staple on the cakes menu. “In the holidays she’ll come and work with me here. But there’s no obligation, no expectation. She wants to go to college after her GCSEs which would be great. She’s really good at Spanish, and at art and English, she’s got plenty of options.

“Ah, look at these we’ve just got this morning.” Sophie jumps up and grabs an envelope from the top of the counter. “We did a coffee course.”

“A what?”

“We did a course on how to use the coffee machine correctly.” Blimey, I didn’t realise it was so complicated. But, having finished my Americano and wiped the last of the cream from around my mouth, I can appreciate why it’s important to differentiate yourself in a crowded market.

“I hate certificates normally but I’m quite proud of this one. The café was always going to be about the coffee. There are loads of places to eat in Brixham but there is nowhere – in our opinion – that serves really good coffee.

“We choose really carefully – got a good coffee machine and then did the right training – and Millie came with James and I, so she’s got her own certificate. At the moment we are the only three who can do it. Harry thinks he can, but he can never get the milk right. Whereas Millie comes along and makes perfect lattes every time. It’s quite funny.”

“And now, nearly a month after you’ve opened, how does the reality compare with your projections?”

“Pretty much spot on,” she says. “Although, as I said, we’ve been quite pessimistic with our forecast until now. But it’s not Easter yet. We’ve been building up a good bank of regulars and we’ve been giving everyone loyalty cards, you know, a free coffee for every 10 purchases. On Saturday a customer claimed his 11th coffee… and we’d only been open for just over two weeks which just shows we’re getting the repeat business that we need.”

“So, fast forward, do you think this is the first of a chain of coffee shops for you?”

“Oh, I really think there ought to be a Millie and Me in Totnes. We’d fit in there quite well.”

“And, as far as the Neighbourhood Challenge goes, you weren’t one of the winners…”.

“No, but neither do I think we should have been. Although there have been other benefits for both Millie and I, at the end of the day we are a commercial business. I think prizes of £3,500 should be ploughed back into the community rather than support a fledgling business like ours which has to make a profit.”

While I am here, in front of Sophie, I ask her the question that I’ve been asking all week. “What do you think it is that makes YES so special?”

She doesn’t hesitate. “I don’t want to be cheesy but I have to say it’s down to Chris and Angela, as people. Having worked for years in health and social care, both for statutory organisations and in the voluntary sector, where everything is so politically correct and so by the book, sometimes we actually forget we’re dealing with real people. At YES, although they stay totally professional, somehow the edges get blurred, do you know what I mean? I don’t know whether that’s because of them as people or just the way Brixham is, but they will do what is needed, and they do what is right.

“I remember once when I was working as a runaways worker. There was a young person –known to Angela – who was going to be homeless for the night. We couldn’t help her that particular night and she had nowhere else to go and so Angela put her up. And at my work there was uproar – she shouldn’t be doing that, they said – and, at the time, I agreed with my colleagues. But now I see it differently. Angela had known that young person for many years and did not want to see her on the streets even for one night. She was totally professional about it, clear about the boundaries, but she did what was right and I think that is what makes YES so special.”

“It’s the same for every successful community project,” I say, “it’s down to individuals isn’t it? Sometimes the authorities just don’t get it. You can’t put that on a spreadsheet.”

“Yes, exactly.”

“I’m thinking I’d quite like to take a picture of you standing in the window looking out. Would you be up for that?”

That’s all folks! Journey to The Edge was by Len Grant. Thanks for reading.

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