Thrive founder Sara Lawton on changing the fortune of the Liverpool City Region

Earlier this month, we shared the restaurants and cafes of Liverpool giving us the warm ’n’ fuzzies by doing good for charity and giving back to their local community. In this article, we’re shifting the focus to another team of honourable humans making a difference as we catch up with Sara Lawton, founder and director of new city centre CIC, Thrive, launched during lockdown 2.0 last year. 

If [we] help those furthest away from the job market into employment, we will be able to tackle some of the issues we have around mass deprivation

Thrive provides life opportunities for youngsters left out in the cold (some literally, some metaphorically) by giving them access to expert career guidance and professional mental health support in chilled-out, cafe-style surroundings. Having already onboarded more than 70 support workers and welcomed 107 young people through the door, we were chomping at the bit to sit down with Sara (albeit at a digital social distance) to find out more about the community-led service which she believes “is needed now more than ever”. 

2021 23 01 Sara Lawton Thrive Founder
Thrive founder, Sara Lawton

Can you tell us more about Thrive?

Sara: “Thrive is a coffee shop based in Liverpool city centre but it’s not open to the general public. It’s only open to support-workers who work with children who’ve been in the care system, young offenders, or even young people that have been socially excluded and are therefore furthest away from the job market. The support workers can come in, have a coffee, grab a snack and have a one-to-one meeting with the young people they’re working with. 

“The coffee shop also offers a service where if those 18-24-year-olds are claiming Universal Credit, we’ll work with them and support them with their job search. We’ll help them with their CV, help them identify any barriers to employment and then link them up with employers in the Liverpool City Region. If they want to attend Thrive on a regular basis to make use of this service, they don’t have to attend their local Job Centre as we provide an alternative for them.”  

2021 23 01 Thrive Coffee Bar
The coffee shop provides a space for young people and support workers to meet

What lit the fire in your belly to make the concept of Thrive a living, breathing reality? 

Sara: “We’d been speaking to local support workers and it came to light that there was no designated space at all in the city where they go to have one-to-ones with young people. They’d been sitting in a crowded McDonald’s or a Costa coffee, meeting with a survivor of childhood sexual assault or a young offender and their mental health worker, which just isn’t right. We decided we wanted to create something especially for them. 

“I run a commercial business which is a procurement business essentially. I’ve been running that business for almost six years now and I wanted to start doing more to tackle deprivation and poverty. So now, each time the public sector use our services, we reinvest a proportion of the profit into things like domestic violence projects and employability projects across the region. This year, I wanted to do more to help young people specifically. I believe that if you help those furthest away from the job market into employment, we will be able - as a city region - to tackle some of the issues we have around mass deprivation.” 

2021 23 01 Thrive Cafe
"We’ve totally digitised the space because many of the young people we’re looking to help experience digital poverty."

What about the space itself?

Sara: “During the first lockdown, we refurbished it into two large rooms. The right hand side is the full coffee shop (serving Crosby Coffee) and the other half has a couple of desks and that’s where we do our intensive job support. After lockdown, we’ll also have an outreach worker there from the Department for Work and Pensions who will be able to make sure the young people get access to things like kickstarter vacancies, support with travel to work and clothing for work. 

“We’ve totally digitised the space because many of the young people we’re looking to help experience digital poverty. They can come in, grab a laptop and carry out a job search while they’re here. If they’re looking for somewhere to live, they can log onto the local authority’s website and see what housing is available. We’ve set up a big screen in the space that employers can Zoom into and talk about what they do and what their journey was.”

How is Thrive being funded? 

 Sara: “We’ve directly invested the money but also generated support from partners as well. I funded the cafe and the interactive career sessions and then we secured some funding for laptops from a local company called Fusion21. The DWP has funded our Employment Support Officer and an Employment Engagement Manager, and The Regenda Group has given us the premises rent-free for the first year. We’ve been winning hearts and minds and got some sponsorship from our private supply chain too. When the young people attend, we don’t want them to pay for their drinks or their snacks because these kids have got nothing, so we want to make sure we can cover the cost for them.”

2021 23 01 Thrive Team With Dwp
The Thrive team

Can you give us a sneak peek into your future? What’s in store for Thrive?

Sara: “We’d love to turn the coffee shop into a social enterprise run by young people for young people. In the long term, when the hospitality industry comes into recovery post-pandemic, we’ve also got some ideas about working with other coffee shops to start a pay-it-forward scheme. We want to support a minimum of 30 young people this year and we want to move at least ten of those to employment. If it all works, Thrive is something that could be branched out and franchised, which would be absolutely amazing because it would mean that we’re really getting to help those at a real disadvantage. 

We believe that if we inspire these young people, get them interested in employment and set them on the right pathway, it helps keep them safe and reduce the risk of things like exploitation or grooming. Making a difference to them at this time in their life with also change the fortune of the Liverpool City Region. They become employable and financially independent; crime rates drop and people start spending more money in the local shops - and in that way, I believe you can actually change the dynamic of a community.

To find out more about Thrive and the wonderful work they're putting the elbow grease into, or to offer support or a donation, visit their website. 

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