Getting to know: Ignition Brewery — brewing with a social awareness
South London’s Ignition Brewery is a craft beer brewery with a difference. Whilst its Pale Ales and Porter are high-quality products — popular in the area’s pubs, bars, cafés and restaurants — it is Ignition Brewery’s social innovation and practical contribution to the local community that sets it apart and gives it a unique competitive edge. Founded to create meaningful employment in the brewing industry for local people, Ignition Brewery sees an increase in sales of its beer as not merely an opportunity to further expand its capacity as a social enterprise, but as a means to plough profits back into projects that benefit local people.
The brewers and other professionals at Ignition Brewery are qualified beer sommeliers, which is not unusual for workers in the beer industry. However, considering the team also have learning disabilities, Ignition Brewery’s social conscience is undoubtedly doing something very special indeed in its approach.
Despite its initial motivation being the creation of employment opportunities for people in the local community who would benefit enormously from this type of endeavour, the production of high-quality beer that can stand-alone and rival contemporary products in a highly-competitive market is a fundamental part of the strategy.
Ignition Brewery was founded by volunteers at the “Tuesday Club”, a social event for people with learning disabilities in the local community. Far from being a project that would be seen as an act of benevolence, they were committed to creating a legitimate brewery staffed by talented and aspirational employees who are paid a real and fair wage. This type of enterprise is far from common in the social sector, especially for local residents with learning disabilities, and the team were determined to demonstrate that it is cost-effective, rewarding and responsible to provide meaningful employment opportunities to the community instead of relying on social care.
Ignition has been successful in this undertaking in spite of the naysayers.
Because it is a social project that benefits the local community, brewing beer was the obvious choice of business to create — beer and pubs are in many cases the heart of social life, central (and vital) to the local community.
Founding the brewery was not all plain sailing. The budding employees had little brewing experience or knowledge at the beginning, and it was unclear if there was even a place in the local market for a new brewery. Testing the water with a local market-stall selling mulled wine and hot cider, it was evident there was indeed a thirst in the community for a new brewing endeavour with a socially innovative edge. Ignition Brewery’s first experience with brewing was at a nearby shared brewing facility, although even finding an existing physical brewery willing to accommodate the new brewers was a challenge.
The first beers suffered from poor quality, but the initial teething troubles were soon ironed-out as the brewers become familiar and comfortable with the intricacies of brewing good-quality beer.
Now, after several years, the brewery is a success and has not only met its original aims, but has also greatly exceeded expectations. Ignition Brewery is going from strength to strength. The next ambitious goal is for the brewery to open its own taproom in an adjoining space that is rented from the Local Authority.
A successful crowdfunding exercise has generated the funds to allow the Ignition Taproom to proceed. Having many supporters and a prominent position on a busy South-London High Street will guarantee Ignition Brewery prospers and continues to grow. It is a great model in creating a start-up brewery with admirable social credentials. We look forward to seeing the model replicated in other areas and other markets.