How coffee is helping a former Norfolk policeman to fight slavery
PUBLISHED: 16:53 21 June 2019 | UPDATED: 16:53 21 June 2019
Bryn Frere-Smith, a Christian and a former Norfolk police officer, has started an online coffee company to fight modern-day slavery, after spending a year in the Dominican Republic rescuing trafficking victims. Jenny Seal reports
In January, 33-year old Bryn Frere-Smith launched the Blue Bear Coffee Company. The new enterprise sells 1kg and 220g bags of premium, fairly-traded coffee and 100% of the profits go to charities fighting human trafficking and modern-day slavery.
Bryn, whose family live in Dereham, trained as a police officer and worked for Norfolk Police from 2009-2013. After a transfer to the Met, he left the police in 2014 to work as a bodyguard protecting high profile clients.
Whilst guarding a young Arabian prince on yet another Christmas shopping trip to Harrods in 2016, Bryn decided he needed to do more with his life. He said: "I realised that it was time for me to leave the world of bodyguarding and turn to protecting those who can't afford to pay for it."
Bryn joined the Christian anti-slavery organization International Justice Mission (IJM) investigating child-sexual exploitation in the Caribbean's Dominican Republic. For a year, it was his job to pose as a tourist looking to pay children for sex. "Obviously, it was all for the right purposes," said Bryn, "and as soon as we found someone that was being trafficked we would respond and justice would take its turn. But it was a very, very dark place to spend your time."
On one rescue mission, the young girl who had been the victim of terrible abuse was asked if there was anything from her home and place of captivity, she wanted to bring with her. She asked for her old blue teddy bear. Bryn was struck by the image of her being driven away with this dirty, dog-eared and damaged teddy sat on her lap giving her comfort.
He responded by setting up the Blue Bear Fund, asking friends for money to buy some teddy bears and age-appropriate toys for the rescued children. Bryn said: "It was a means of responding to something truly sad and heartbreaking. To be in a position, when we did go on a rescue and we did encounter young children, there was something for them to hold that was new, and fresh and clean and came from a place of love, not from one of suffering."
The fund raised over £2,000 and with it he worked with IJM's after-care department, helping victims sort out health care, education, housing and furniture.
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Bryn said: "To be able to engage on the lighter side of things, the loving side of thing, the compassionate side of things, was very important for me and brought me an enormous amount of joy. So, when I got back to the UK in June 2018 I decided that I wanted to invest more of myself in that side of it, in providing and finding a means of supporting the excellent work that goes on."
Bryn realized that he didn't need to set up his own charity or investigative agency. "There are plenty of them and they are doing it very, very well," he said. "I decided to try to start a business that could generate a decent level of sustainable income, where 100% of the profit goes to the trafficking charities".
Bryn had a passion for drinking good coffee and through a family connection met Josh Clarke, Head of Coffee at Clifton Coffee Company and the UK's 2019 Coffee Tasting Champion. Bryn and Josh are both Christians, and the pair developed Blue Bear Coffee in partnership.
Josh and his company already had the relationships with indigenous coffee growers, as well as the equipment to roast and package the coffee. They were able to supply Blue Bear Coffee with the final product to sell.
Bryn crowdsourced £7,000 for the coffee company's inception and in a very short time had created an ethical company that was generating profit.
He attributes the speed in getting the venture up and running to God. Bryn, who worships at Taverham Evangelical Church when he visits Norfolk, and St George's Holborn in London, said. "This is God's project not mine. God brought along Josh Clarke, the relationship with Clifton and all the different people he put around me to do the website. God orchestrated all of that - I could never have made that happen. I've not even been back in the UK a year and in less than nine months we had a great company that was up and running. That's amazing and only the Lord's provenance will allow that."
Bryn has big dreams for Blue Bear Coffee. It is already growing an individual customer base but the big challenge is gaining wholesale customers. "It's through wholesale relationships that we can start to make decent levels of money," said Bryn. And that's really, really hard. We are looking for churches, businesses and hospitality companies that have a heart for this issue, that are already somewhat invested and engaged in the issue of social justice, social reform, human trafficking and modern-day slavery. Identifying those businesses is a challenge for us."
Bryn has gone back to bodyguarding and takes no salary from Blue Bear Coffee despite working long hours to run it. He is motivated to work hard and keep costs low by his strong passion for justice and his memories of the Dominican Republic.
"It just takes a reflection, sometimes a painful one on the many, many children, young women and women of age that I met, that have found themselves in a position of abuse one way or another. That brief reflection is plenty to feel super turbocharged, to re-motivate me and to help me go, 'Come on, let's do this! Let's push, push, push!'".