Community, creativity and equality at the heart of Cliftonville’s Skinny Dip coffee shop

Skinny Dip coffee shop in Cliftonville

Being a part of the community and integral in the drive to ensure equal pay and rights for women coffee farmers and producers are at the heart of Skinny Dip coffee shop in Cliftonville.

The venue, opened by Tom Denning and partner Amy Leaning amid the second covid lockdown in winter 2020, supports isle artists by providing display space and works with an nearby care home to give work experience to a young man with disabilities.

The venue in Northdown Road is the only shop in the UK to buy coffee solely from female farmers and producers, helping to readdress the gender imbalance in the global coffee supply chain.

In November Skinny Dip was ranked the most innovative café in the UK in the Brita Professional inaugural Grounds of Innovation Awards.

A panel of coffee industry professionals ranked entries from across the UK, judging shops on the creativity in their design and the innovation behind their operations.

Judges were impressed by Skinny Dip’s dedication to the community, its support for women workers in the coffee industry, the British twist on Mexican cuisine and a shop interior inspired by Wes Anderson.

Dad-of-three Tom said: “We are a small, 50 cover coffee shop in Margate and should not be able to compete with the biggest names in metropolitan areas so it was very nice to have done this and to be recognised, especially as it was by a panel of senior people in the coffee industry.

“Beyond that is the fact that our industry is dominated by individual awards but the idea behind this was to recognise innovation and that innovation comes from everyone working here so it recognises a good crew.

“We are the only specialised coffee shop inn the UK that sources coffee from prodcuers who owned by women or employ women on equal pay. It is the second biggest trade commodity in the world but a report in 2010 showed 70% of the labour is done by women [in some regions] but they only get 10 to 20% of the proceeds. That felt like something that needed addressing.”

Tom learnt his trade working for some six years at Margate’s Curve Coffee after leaving behind his former career in advertising.

He and Amy now employ six staff in the off peak winter season with more people taken on to cope in the busy summer months.

One of his staff member’s is the curator for the café art space which is booked up until August 2025.

The first exhibition at the venue was by 14 artists with a varied range of abilities and learning impairments displaying their ‘Proud 2 Create’ works.

All the artists were part of the Sandra Art4All Art Studio, which was established by Sandra Hampton in 2016 to provide a platform for aspiring artists with special needs. The exhibition showcased a vibrant collection of drawings, paintings and photographs from artists with learning impairments including Autism, Charge Syndrome, Deaf and Cerebral Palsy.

Tom said: “Having art in coffee shops is something that has long been happening and we have a nice space with big walls and nothing on them. It is an opportunity to help some people that might not get a more commercial space and Sandra Art4All does really great things.”

Tom says it is important “to be able to say yes” to anything from exhibiting artworks to giving work experience to those who may not always get those chances elsewhere.

One scheme he is considering is ‘Lost Coffee’ where people in the community living with dementia are able to come in and serve tables. He said: “It might take ages or you might not get your coffee at all but it pus people who are otherwise vulnerable in places where it is normalised.”

Tom says the Skinny Dip crew is not “showy” with shouting about the things they do and top of their job is to provide good hospitality and make customers welcome. However, if anyone wants to find out more about women in the coffee farming industry and Skinny Dips role in that, all they have to do is ask.

This winter Tom says the shop, like most others, is navigating a difficult trading period with the focus on getting through to the Spring.

The couple would like to expand the business with a second venue next year but Tom added: “It depends on what happens. The future is uncertain for everybody with high street rent increases and declining customer spend.

“Summer is our strongest trading period, the challenge is what has happened since October – we are in recession but nobody talks about it.”

Despite the difficult economic period Tom is optimistic about Thanet and its thriving independents.

He said: “We have just turned three and most people thought we were bonkers to open during the lockdowns but the beauty of Thanet is people can still have their dreams and independent shops. People use us and support us.

“The creative community in Margate inspires us every day and it will continue to play a huge role in our business as we look to expand.”

Find Skinny Dip coffee at 235 Northdown Rd, Cliftonville; on facebook or Instagram https://www.instagram.com/skinnydipcoffee/

Women in the coffee industry 

A 2018 report by the International Coffee Organisation says women contribute significantly to the global coffee sector. Between 20% and 30% of coffee farms are female-operated and up to 70% of labour in coffee production is provided by women, depending on the region.

However, empirical evidence shows that women have systematically lower access to resources, such as land, credit and information, than men. This often results in a measurable gender gap in economic outcomes, including yields, productivity and farm income.

The report says: “Strengthening the role of women supports broad-based development through improved livelihoods and rural incomes, with wider benefits in terms of household welfare, ranging from improved nutritional status to educational attainment of dependents.”

6 Comments

  1. You buy coffee solely from female producers? Sorry but I don’t understand what is equal about that. Another place in Margate trying to be woke and a waste of an article

Comments are closed.