Paulo’s Birthday

Paulo’s Birthday. Sounds like a children’s story book, and maybe one day this will have a fairy tale ending, maybe sooner than we can dare dream….

So today I found myself back in Armley to develop links with The Real Junk Food Project. It’s been a beautiful day here in Leeds, and the mood in the cafe was (again) welcoming, friendly and loads of food on offer.

Whilst I sat waiting for my meeting with one of the Directors, a man walks in, places his rucksack by the door, and makes his way over to the breakfast bar. One of the volunteers immediately sees him and announces that it’s Paulo and it’s his birthday today, to which all of us already in the cafe sang a terrible rendition of the birthday song.

He joined me at my table, and we got chatting. Today is his 42nd birthday. He is Portugese and after holding a variety of jobs in Portugal, including 21 years in a mine, and helping at his mother’s cafe, he decided to come over to the UK to join his brother and sister in law in Leeds to earn a better wage and improve his standard of living. Unfortunately, things haven’t worked out well for him and he has struggled to find work. I asked him where he had come from today, and he replied; ‘the streets’. I thought I had misheard him, and tried again. He explained that for the last three months, he sleeps in the doorway of the Leeds Town Hall, between 11.30pm and 6.30am. Why those times? Because that is when the Town Hall is closed and he is able to bed himself in for a sleep. At 6.30am, he gets up, goes to the toilets in the library for a wash, change of clothes, shave, then walks around town until the PAYF cafe opens in Armley. He has no money. His possessions are those in his rucksack at the door. He has no way of eating save for the generosity of strangers, and the determination of Adam Smith and his team in creating The Real Junk Food network.

I asked him what kind of job he would be interested in doing; what would his dream job be? I was blown away by his answer: ‘with coffee’. I thought I had misheard. I probed. His mother had owned a cafe in Portugal and he used to work there. He loved keeping the place clean, and using the espresso machine to make his favourite short espresso. I grinned from ear to ear. How is it that, again, in the unlikeliest of places, there is a genuine bond with a stranger who on the surface has so little in common with me?

I explained the ToastLoveCoffee project. He loved it. He said he would help me. I told him I had no money to offer him. His response; ‘that is OK, I want to help you’.

So maybe I’ve found my first Barista. And maybe, on his birthday, he has found the chance he was looking for to live a better life…

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