How Combat2Coffee is changing lives one coffee at a time

08h00 23 February 2022

09:02 23 February 2022

Combat2Coffee, a nonprofit founded in 2018, won the Changing Lives Special Recognition Award, sponsored by Norwich Research Parkto Suffolk Business Awards 2021.

Founded by former army veteran and prison officer Nigel Seaman, the company operates two cafes in Ipswich and Bury St Edmunds – which provide a ‘safe haven’ for army veterans struggling with health issues mental health, as well as their friends and families.

It also offers barista training and qualifications, giving veterans and inmates something to engage with and helping them develop skills to increase employment opportunities.

Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after 12 years of military service, the experience of running Combat2Coffee has changed Nigel’s life as well as the people he helps.

“I suffered in silence for a considerable time, but I always had this idea of ​​doing something with coffee,” says Nigel.

He sprang into action on Boxing Day in 2018. “That Christmas day was probably the darkest I’ve ever seen – but my daughter arrived early in the morning on Boxing Day, and it completely changed my view of things,” he continued. “I owed it to my kids to try this coffee thing.”

Nigel’s idea for Combat2Coffee developed during a six-week course on combat stress. “There were nine people in my class, all going through their own traumas, but I was always a bit of a welfare man,” he explains. “Before, I was the one making coffee for everyone.”

Along with his team of volunteers, Nigel now serves coffee to other veterans at both Combat2Coffee locations – on Northgate Street, Ipswich and Guildhall Street, Bury St Edmunds. The sites provide an outlet for people to meet others who are going through similar challenges.

“Cafés provide a safe place where people can come for a drink and a chat – if they want to chat,” says Nigel. “We can’t fix people, but we allow people in, and then we will point them in and support them to get the help they need – and sometimes be the first step in their recovery journey as they were previously afraid to take this step.

Combat2Coffee has won the Changing Lives Special Recognition Award, sponsored by Norwich Research Park, at the Suffolk Business Awards 2021
– Credit: Matthew Potter Photographer and Videographer

Combat2Coffee also has a mobile coffee van so they can serve people who aren’t ready to go out. “We serve them our coffee at their front door, next time we’ll serve it to them in the back of the van – and you never know, the third or fourth time we might be able to get them down to the store,” said Nigel.

Serving coffee is only part of Combat2Coffee’s offering. As an approved teaching centre, it now offers an 18-week qualification course, giving veterans the opportunity to earn a nationally recognized 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 allowed Combat2Coffee to continue its work while cafes were closed. “It was our stroke of luck,” says Nigel. “It has given us some durability during a very difficult time, and we are doing other prison work alongside it.”

The company has now received funding to hire a case manager, who can follow up with anyone who needs help. Subject to additional funding, it hopes to expand into North Essex, South Norfolk and Lowestoft.

Winning a Suffolk Business Award has helped put Combat2Coffee on the map across the county – and beyond. “I am very honored to win this award,” said Nigel. “I know that if I help a veteran in the community, he will talk about us and that will help another person, and then another person.

Nigel’s feats are all the more impressive as his leg was amputated in September 2020. After overcoming physical challenges, he is slowly but surely overcoming psychological challenges.

“For once, I’m really comfortable with myself,” he says. “I have weekly swings with my sanity – but I can at least pick myself up, dust myself off and go again the next day.”

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