Grounded MCR, founded by Natalie Lobel and Kerry is not your typical coffee vendor.
Beyond the rich aromas of speciality brews and the delightful aroma of fresh pastries, it’s the profound impact on the community’s collective spirit that sets Grounded MCR apart.
In a world where independent businesses in the hospitality industry are facing an uphill battle, the team at Grounded MCR have managed to infuse hope and transformation into every cup they serve.
With a background in hospitality, PR, and charity work, she found herself at a crossroads where her own experiences with mental health struggles converged with her passion for coffee.
The result? An ingenious social enterprise that serves up more than just espresso – it serves up empowerment, community, and a potent brew of mental health support.
We sat down with Natalie to talk about all things Grounded MCR.
With a passion for inclusivity and mental health support, Natalie and her team are changing lives, one cup at a time.
From Corporate to Community
The journey of Grounded MCR begins with a career shift that stems from personal challenges.
Natalie Lobel had spent years in the corporate food and drink world, a world that can often be demanding and unforgiving.
However, it was at the end of 2018 when her life took a turn.
She experienced a mental health crisis that led her to reevaluate her entire existence.
“I had been working in the corporate food and drink world for a long time. At the end of 2018, I had a bit of a breakdown, a mental health breakdown.
“It was a really dark time for me, but in many ways it made me make the changes in my life that were necessary,” says Natalie.
Her breakdown, although daunting, became an opportunity for change.
She realised that if she were ever to venture into the world of owning her own business, it had to be different; it had to mean more than just serving coffee and saying goodbye.
“Rather than returning to the corporate world, I decided it was time for something new,”
Her apprehension about striking out on her own was palpable, but she had to ask herself why she wasn’t following her dreams of owning her own business.
A Unique Vision for a Community-Focused Business
She aspired to build a community-centred business that welcomed people dealing with anxiety, depression, ADHD, autism, or any condition that made them feel vulnerable.
She knew that addressing these challenges required an approach tailored to the individual, far removed from the one-size-fits-all approach many employers offered.
This vision stemmed from her personal experience.
When she approached her corporate workplace with concerns about her mental health, she was met with a dismissive, one-size-fits-all return-to-work scheme.
Such schemes often fail to accommodate the unique needs of those grappling with mental health challenges.
When Natalie pushed back, advocating for an approach that recognised the individuality of mental health issues, her concerns were brushed aside, ultimately leading her to resign.
It was this experience that sparked the idea of a social enterprise where people with diverse mental health conditions could thrive.
Instead of focusing on what these individuals couldn’t do, Grounded MCR would tailor job roles to their abilities.
In doing so, they aimed to offer a lifeline to those who hadn’t experienced the support they needed.
Natalie’s commitment to this vision runs deep, fueled not only by her professional background but also by her personal life.
Her wife also battled depression, further strengthening her resolve to make a positive impact on mental health.
Brewing More Than Coffee: Creating a Community
In June 2021, Grounded MCR took its first steps in turning this vision into a reality.
The company’s journey may have been a bit delayed due to the global pandemic, but its commitment to building a supportive community for those struggling with mental health was unwavering.
Their first employee came through the government’s Kickstart scheme.
This remarkable individual, once lacking in self-esteem and battling severe mental health problems, was initially unable to make eye contact with Natalie.
Yet, Grounded MCR’s unique environment, focused on outdoor work and nurturing their abilities, provided the transformation that this employee needed.
Today, he’s more than just a success story; he’s a living testament to the power of tailored support.
As a result, he’s not only part of Grounded MCR, but he’s also embarked on a new journey – university – a feat he once thought unattainable.
Natalie takes great pride in these accomplishments.
Her mission extends beyond “curing” anxiety or mental health challenges; instead, it’s about helping individuals learn to live with their conditions.
It’s about showing them that they can contribute to society under the right conditions.
Grounded MCR has turned into a haven for such individuals, creating a supportive ecosystem where they are accepted and cherished for who they are.
It’s not about trying to fit a square peg into a round hole; it’s about sculpting the environment to fit the unique shapes of individuals.
Yet, this transformative journey goes beyond the walls of their coffee cart. It’s become an integral part of the Levenshulme community.
What initially began as a personal endeavour to combat her own mental health challenges has grown into a remarkable community.
Grounded MCR has organically grown into a place where people come not just for coffee but for conversation.
It’s as if they’ve become informal therapists, providing a space for people to share their thoughts, fears, and hopes.
The bonds forged in this unique community cut across diverse socioeconomic backgrounds, resulting in a deep sense of connection.
Grounded MCR has even hosted events that positively impact people’s mental health, such as alpaca walks in the park, providing simple pleasures that brighten the darkest days.
Natalie explains her mission with a simple truth, “Ultimately, we’re all just trying to find a bit of contentment and happiness in the day.
“If something like alpacas walking around a park and a brew can make you feel better, then my job’s done because that’s what makes a happy day for me.”
Brewing a Bright Future
Grounded MCR didn’t stop at being a coffee cart in the park.
They embraced a broader vision, which includes becoming a Community Interest Concern and a Co-op.
These distinctions were essential for Natalie because she wanted to ensure that they were held accountable for their mission to the community.
Grounded MCR’s new Cafe in Cringle Park
This commitment has led them to an exciting new project – the opening of a cafe in Cringle Park.
This endeavour, in partnership with the local council, involves transforming a shipping container into an oasis of hope.
With a green roof, vertical allotments, and a focus on sustainability, this little hub will provide training for vulnerable adults in barista skills and hospitality.
Their primary aim is to target 18 to 24-year-olds who often get trapped in a cycle due to their special educational needs.
Grounded MCR seeks to provide training and create pathways for other employers to hire these individuals.
They recognise the shortage of workers in the cafe and hospitality industry and understand that employers seek all-rounders.
Grounded MCR is working to bridge this gap by emphasising that there are neurodivergent individuals who are experts in their specific areas, such as grinding coffee and steaming milk, but perhaps can’t do other tasks.
This unorthodox business model demonstrates that inclusivity can work and be sustainable, even if it doesn’t conform to the traditional cafe profit model.
As Natalie puts it, “You might not want to talk to anybody, but most cafe owners might think, ‘Well, that’s not going to work.’
But actually, we say, ‘Well, it can work, it just involves a bit less focus on making a bigger profit because you might have two staff instead of one staff.’
So it’s like, ‘How do we make that actually sustainable? It’s all right when it’s just us doing it, but if we’re trying to help other employers do it, that feels like a much bigger goal.’ But I think it’s good to have a big goal to aim for.”
The personal nature of their mission is evident in their unwavering commitment to making the future brighter for their own son.
With a history of mental health challenges and an adopted son who has faced significant hurdles, Natalie is determined to create opportunities that ensure a better future.
“I really want him in the future to have the opportunities that people don’t necessarily have at the moment,” she reveals.
Grounded MCR is a testament to the power of personal experiences, and their commitment to the community is rooted in an earnest desire to pave the way for a more inclusive and compassionate society.
They are one of three winners of Square’s £10,000 advertising package to reward some of the amazing local, independent businesses in Greater Manchester.
When asked what this prize meant to Grounded MCR, Natalie said: “When I entered, my team and I were Square customers. I kept seeing this particular ad, but I never win anything so I didn’t think about it.
“What struck me was that not only was an awesome prize, but it could also really help us out.
“You see, the winter season can be quite challenging for a seasonal business like ours. We lack waterproof facilities and currently lack a seating area. Given our limited budget, advertising expenses are a luxury we can’t afford.
So, I decided to participate in the competition. The primary reason was the incredible prize it offered, and secondly, our tight advertising budget situation.
“This opportunity seemed perfect to introduce ourselves to a broader audience.
“While we enjoy a certain level of recognition in our local area, we’ve only been in operation for two years. As a relatively new business, we understand the importance of a significant advertising push.
Additionally, we’re on the verge of launching a new line of merchandise.
“This timing is perfect, as we anticipate it will enhance our presence on social media and generate income that will help us weather the winter season.
“Furthermore, the profits from our merchandise sales will contribute to funding the education of one of our employees who recently started university. He doesn’t have the financial support of his parents, so it’s just awesome that we’ve won!”
More Than Just a Brew
Grounded MCR’s journey reflects the fact that, in a society where conversations about mental health are becoming increasingly important, sometimes all people need is a space to talk and be heard.
Through their coffee cart, cafe, and the warmth of their community, they’ve become informal therapists, friends, and a support system for many.
In the busy streets of Greater Manchester, Grounded MCR stands as an example of how passion, inclusivity, and a desire to make a change can transform lives.
The simple act of sharing a brew, walking with alpacas, and creating an environment that recognises individuality and abilities are reminders that we are all just trying to find a bit of contentment and happiness in our day.
Grounded MCR is not just about brewing coffee; it’s about brewing hope, change, and community.
And in their neighbourhood, it’s become more than just a brew; it’s a big, lovely community that’s changing lives one cup at a time.