In 2011, Ben McKinnon left his office job in sustainability and started baking organic sourdough in his native Hackney. Seven years later, e5 Bakehouse occupy three railway arches in London Fields, baking some of the most delicious sourdough in the capital, and have recently opened a new café in Poplar. Ben’s latest venture - e5 Roasthouse at Poplar Union - is a café and coffee roastery with a social difference. Clipper visited the team to find out more.
Ben Makinnon, Founder
What struck you about the site?
Someone from community body Poplar HARCA showed us the site by coincidence and we just thought it was so fresh, contemporary and open. It’s right by the canal which offers a lot of potential for getting here – I come all the way along on my bike from the other side of Hackney.
What do your staff think of it?
They love it, because it’s much less intense here. These social objectives offer openness and a freshness that brings more meaning to what they’re doing. The refugee employees feel positive that it’s designed with them in mind and they have a great, stable environment to work in.
What does the future of the area look like?
The plans for landscaping the area are really exciting. There will be a children’s play area, better paving and a bridge over the canal. The road’s going to be opened up and the railings will go so you can walk down to the canal.
It should bring a softness to the area. Currently, it feels quite edgy, but it’s being invested in and cared for and that’s how communities build up. For anyone who does move in, the infrastructure will already be there.
Kaan Diskaya, Barista
How do you interact with the new area and space?
I live in a high-rise in Hackney so I cycle here, although I can see the area from my flat. I often photograph the London skyline from my window and have a photography exhibition at E5 Roasthouse next month, about the changing skyline of London.
It’s cool to think of people coming in and out and seeing what I do, beyond the coffee. Every day we get more customers. People are always surprised (in a good way) to find us here and to discover we are part of E5.
Jean Kern, Head Baker and Barista
What’s on offer beyond the coffee and food?
Poplar Union works hard to organise fantastic activities, with a lot of stuff for kids. There’s six of them in the team and we’re great friends now. There’s such a diverse range on offer: toddler and adult yoga, concerts, workshops, social dancing.
We’ve been to a few shows and the next day you come back and you’re like ‘wow, I work here’. It’s truly inspiring. We’re also trying to stay open later in the evenings, because people always drop by to see us, relax and have a chat afterwards.
Marius Butkevicius, Coffee Roaster
How do you see the area and the vibe changing?
I think more businesses and people should and will come here. Although there’s not much in the area right now, it feels really hopeful and I predict we’ll only get busier. I know we can build a nice relationship with the newcomers because of this being a roastery. You can literally smell the coffee.
When I was a kid, I lived next to a bakery and every day on my way to school, I still remember the soft, creamy smell of baked dough. That’s one of my best memories and it’s still lodged in my brain. I think the space, the events and — obviously — that smell will pull people in.
Teaming up With the Refugee Council
Five years ago, a collaboration between E5 Bakehouse and The Refugee Council resulted in a 10-week breadmaking programme for refugee women, hosted and taught by the team in Hackney. The aim was to equip the women with the skills to go professional if they wanted, and start their own ventures.
However, both the trainees and teachers found it hard saying goodbye at the end of each series, so E5 Roasthouse was established in September 2017 at Poplar Union, a community arts centre, to provide further employment and training.
Elsa, Fifi, Sana and Ramatulai are all from the refugee programme and are now an important part of the team. All employees are paid the living wage and 30% of the profits go to supporting refugee organisations.
Clipper Magazine is produced for Republic by Courier Media.
Article Last Updated: March 8, 2023
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