Deacon ordinand Jo Rodman has created this brilliantly diaconal and innovative project. Be inspired!
Just-Ice is an innovative social enterprise that combines a love of ice-cream with a desire to provide sympathetic employment to survivors of modern slavery.
Situated in the heart of Poynton, a leafy suburb in Cheshire, Just-Ice is helping to raise awareness of modern slavery amongst Poynton’s school children, church, and wider community as well as employing several survivors of modern slavery. It is a brilliant example of a group of Christians taking action and could be mirrored in other communities across the country.
Jo Rodman, the founder of Just-Ice Poynton, was considering a vocation in ordained ministry when she heard about a Christian couple in Derby who had turned their passion for ice cream into a thriving social enterprise. She was excited about starting a similar café in Poynton and was encouraged by the Director of Vocations at Chester Diocese to pursue the idea as part of a Distinctive Deacon role. Distinctive Deacons have a strong call to an outward-looking and community-minded ministry. They often have a particular concern for issues of poverty and justice.
The ice-cream café idea was a perfect fit for Jo as she was able to combine her love for God and His people and her background in running a small business. Jo explains: “When I went to visit Just-Ice in Derby, I knew that something similar could work in Poynton. Poynton is a small town with a village feel and its pretty high street is brimming with places to eat, shop and hang out. It is close to Macclesfield, Stockport, and Manchester and I knew there would be an appetite for high-end, luxury ice cream.
“We received a lot of support from St. George’s Church in Poynton, the Anglican church where I am a Reader as well as other churches in the town. We set up an independent charity but many of the 60 volunteers and all of the trustees go to Poynton Parish Church. The café has galvanised the community – some volunteers serve at the counter in the cafe, others wash up behind the scenes or give baking lessons to survivors of modern slavery. A number, who are more elderly, have joined a fortnightly rota to wash our aprons and tea towels.
“It was always the hope that the café would offer sympathetic employment or work placements to victims of modern slavery. We have worked closely with modern slavery charities in Manchester such as Hope for Justice and Medaille to find suitable candidates for placements or jobs. Survivors are not always ready to work in a full-time capacity as they may be too traumatised by their experiences so we think very carefully before employing individuals. We have been open seven months and currently have one survivor of modern slavery working full time in the shop and two survivors working as volunteers. We have had to be quite nimble and thoughtful in terms of barriers to work. One recent survivor was keen to work with us and seemed like a great match but then he worked out that he couldn’t afford the train fares to get to Poynton each day. We immediately offered to pay his travel expenses.
“Every survivor of modern slavery has a different story but we have found they are usually super keen to work and get involved and be part of the community. They love being part of a team and particularly appreciate learning to bake, one-to-one with our volunteers. The café is a caring and nurturing environment and I think that makes a difference to the survivors.”
As well as providing employment and work placements, the café acts as a community hub providing a warm welcome, friendly face and listening ear to anyone who visits. Every week, it runs a drop in coffee morning to help tackle isolation and loneliness. The manager also visits local primary schools, giving assemblies about modern slavery and inviting children to visit the shop. To mark the Queen’s Jubilee, 360 children from the local primary school went on a Jubilee Walk which culminated at Just-Ice where everyone got a free ice-cream!
Jo concludes: “We aim to be a gentle Christian presence in the heart of Poynton.”