What's the meaning behind Tombland's little blue bear? 🧸

Welcome to our latest Wednesday round-up.

What's the meaning behind Tombland's little blue bear? 🧸
Blue Bear Coffee in Tombland. Photo: Mike Talbot

Greetings from The Seeker!

Last week we asked you all to Buy Us a Coffee to show your support for our mission to create a sustainable model for independent journalism here in our fine city. And we're so grateful to those of you who did 🙏.

That said when you read today's lead story about Blue Bear Coffee by Mike Talbot we won't mind if you wanted to buy one from them too 🙂.

📰Today's Edition

  • Profit Motive
  • True Crimes
  • Long Shot
  • Fresh Start
  • Wellbeing Champions
  • Back Home
  • New Leaf
  • Festival Returns
  • Out and About

Let's get going!

Profit Motive

Bryn Frere-Smith, Blue Bear Coffee Co, Tombland, Norwich. Photo Mike Talbot.
Bryn Frere-Smith, Blue Bear Coffee Co. Photo Mike Talbot.

Buying a beverage in the Blue Bear coffee shop in Tombland, opposite Norwich Cathedral’s Erpingham Gate, can quickly lead to a discussion about modern slavery in Norfolk and the Dominican Republic’s sex industry.

The shop, which opened this summer, is the first physical presence of a social enterprise set up by Bryn Frere-Smith, with a different business model than most. “I’m the tea boy and the CEO,” he explained.  “And this, believe it or not, is an anti-slavery organisation that sells coffee, rather than a coffee business that gives some of its profits away.”

Until now, Blue Bear has been selling a range of coffee online, working with an importing and roasting business in Bristol.  

“This allows you to empower communities in far-flung parts of the world that are vulnerable to trafficking and exploitation by paying them the right wages,” he said.

Bryn was a response officer with Norfolk Constabulary before transferring to surveillance work with the Metropolitan Police in East London.

He left the police in 2014 and set up a security consultancy with a former colleague.  He then took a sabbatical and spent a year working for the US-based International Justice Mission, which fights slavery around the world.

After being deployed to the Dominican Republic, one case involving a young girl being exploited and abused at home had a profound effect.  

He said: "She was asked, ‘Is there anything from home you'd like us to collect for you because you're not going home again, and probably not for a long time?’ The only thing she had of value was this blue teddy bear.

“That really hit me."

And so the seeds of the Blue Bear project were sown - but why coffee?

“Historically, the slave trade was built around the four “C”s - cobalt, cotton, cocoa and coffee,” explained Bryn.  “That hasn’t actually changed that much.  In some areas, you will still find child labour and slavery in the garment industry, the chocolate industry and the coffee industry. That’s why we went with coffee, but the business has always been a vehicle for our mission.

“If someone buys our coffee and knows nothing about our cause, that’s a victory for me. Then hopefully, they discover that actually, what we're doing is supporting children who have come from some pretty difficult backgrounds, with the profits raised from that product, then they'll be encouraged and potentially more engaged.”

The Blue Bear Foundation is a charity set up by Bryn a couple of years ago. Registered here, with a presence in the Dominican Republic, it sponsors child victims of modern slavery. $250 a month covers a child’s healthcare, education and living costs while he or she is in care.  The foundation has also created an educational programme explaining the issue of modern slavery to primary school children, which is being used both in the UK and abroad.

Blue Bear’s online coffee business has been running for five years, the Norwich shop for just a few weeks. Bryn has taken over the packing and distribution side of the business, running that from the shop between serving customers.  “I worked out that the money we save by fulfilling orders ourselves would cover the rent here,” he told The Seeker. The £7000 coffee machine was paid for by crowdfunding, matched by his Tombland neighbours the Mortgage Advice Bureau.

“So far, so good,” said Bryn, who got married in May and visited the Dominican Republic on his honeymoon. “We don't invest in marketing, we don't spend money on sales. We don't lose a lot of energy approaching people.  But everyone from CEOs to students likes to invest in posh coffee and every cup we sell is helping a child somewhere.”

True crimes

Would be Labour MPs Alice Macdonald (Norwich North) and Keir Cozens (Great Yarmouth) recently issued a joint statement detailing "devastating" new Home Office figures which reveal just 9% of crimes across Norfolk resulted in a charge or summons in the last year.

Or in other words, they say, 91% of county crimes go unsolved.

The Seeker asked Norfolk Constabulary for a response.

“It’s important to note that these figures assume that crimes are only 'solved' if they result in a charge or summons," the force said in a statement. "In fact, a charge or summons is not the only outcome for a 'solved' crime. A solved crime could also be as the result of an out of court disposal (which provides reparation for the victim and the opportunity to address the behaviour of the suspect) or Offences to be taken into Consideration (TICs).

“If we include all outcomes, the solve rate in Norfolk for the year ending March 2023 is 15.9%," The Constabulary added. "The latest figures (as of Friday 15 September 2023) confirm a solve rate in Norfolk of 17.5%.

“In fact, in terms of solve rates, Norfolk Constabulary has the highest solve rate of all forces in the country, together with Cheshire.

“It’s also worth noting that 6% of crimes in the timeframe quoted are still being investigated and do not yet have an outcome."

Mystery solved?

Long Shot

The Seeker took particular note of a Norfolk County Council press release this week outlining the next steps for the Long Stratton Bypass.

With planning permission for the project - which includes 1800 homes, and a primary school - recently agreed by South Norfolk Council, all that remains now is for County Hall to submit its final business case to government and for ministers to stump up the cash they promised.

And yet with the funding decision for the Western link of the NDR still up in the air, and no signs yet of how the proposed Norfolk Devolution Deal with play out amid rumblings of discontent from district Tory councillors, was the PR goal to apply a little joint pressure on the government not to bypass on this particular project?

Conservatives may well want to take it up with ministers within earshot at next week's Party Conference in Manchester.

Fresh Start

More than 400 vulnerable and homeless young people across Norfolk are set to benefit from a new £500,000 scheme to help them gain work and independence.

YMCA Norfolk has secured a National Lottery Community Fund grant to run the three-year 'Life Ready, Work Ready' programme in Norwich, Great Yarmouth and King's Lynn.

The project, which will provide coaching support to 16 to 25 year-olds, is set to start in January.

Wellbeing Champions

Brundall is the latest place in Norfolk to be officially declared a 'Mindful Village'.

Local Wellbeing Champions will support people who might be facing mental health issues. Professional support is also provided by Evolve for more complicated cases.

Backed by Broadland District Council the move is part of the Mindful Towns and Villages Project and follows similar schemes in Aylsham, Diss, Wymondham, Shipdham and Swanton Morley.

Back Home

Anna McNeil, Norwich Samaritans, Samaritans CEO Julie Bentley, James Ellis, director and listening volunteer. Photo: Supplied.

Norwich's Samaritans are back at their St Stephen's Square home after the completion of a  £750,000 refurbishment project.

The team had to move to temporary offices in Westlegate while work took place to upgrade its Varah House listening centre, but the move home means the organisation can now focus on its expansion plans with more space to grow as the charity aims to support around 30,000 callers a year.

New Leaf

If you're keen to do your bit for the environment then why not grab some cut price trees - courtesy of Norfolk County Council?

County Hall recently found itself getting some stick after being accused of letting thousands of trees die along the NDR.

Yet the authority is keen to point to its record of planting more than 270,000 trees since 2019 - part of a five-year one million tree target.

And now it is making available 40,000 more at reduced cost for any residents, landowners, community groups and schools.

Tree packs will be available at Norwich (County Hall and Broadland Country Park), Acle, Long Stratton, Watton, Fakenham and King’s Lynn.

Applications are now open and packs will be ready for the planting season between December 2023 - February 2024.

Festival returns

The Festival of Architecture Norwich and Norfolk (FANN) is back this week following a four year gap due to Covid.

Organised by volunteers from the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) Norfolk this year's event features talks, walking tours, an exhibition of upcoming Norfolk projects, and a photography competition.

There is also a hard hat tour of Great Yarmouth’s Winter Gardens, a Design and Craftmanship Awards at The Assembly House, and an update on the work at Norwich Castle.

Out and About

🧶Head to the free Maker's Market at St Mary's Works this weekend. DJ Sure Delight will be providing the music and there's wood fired pizza and a coffee truck to keep you fuelled.

🎭Check out How's Your Father - a free show about Challenged and Challenging Dads at Norwich Arts Centre on October 5. The play is based on UEA research on fathers’ experiences of local authority children’s services and the family court, and the views of other local fathers.

Thank you for supporting The Seeker - see you on Saturday!