Indie Oxford Interview: Tap Social

 In Indie Oxford Interviews

This week we chat to Tess, one of the Founding Directors at Tap Social, our favourite Oxford brewery, about the importance of family, community and having a passion for social change. >>

Philippa James Photography Oxford -
Philippa James Photography -

Tell me about yourself.

I’m one of the founders and directors of Tap Social Movement. We’re a craft brewery that provides training and employment to people who are currently serving or recently released from prison sentences. My personal life revolves a lot around my family, friends, travel, eating nice food and drinking nice drinks. I spend a lot of time trying new restaurants and bars, going on big walks, boxing, exploring new cities and cuddling my twin niece and nephew.

Tap Social Movement Oxford

Why did you set up Tap Social and what was the inspiration behind it.

Career wise, my partners and I all come from criminal justice backgrounds. We’d all seen the immense lack of support and opportunity for people coming out of prison and wanted to do something about it. We know that more than 50% of people released from prison sentences will re-offend within one year, and we also know that having a job makes a person 67% less likely to re-offend. We wanted to create something that would provide people who had been through the criminal justice system with a real second chance at life; supporting them not only through training and into employment, but also socially and emotionally through real relationships and interactions within the business.

Tap Social Oxford
Tap Social by Ian Wallman

What did you do before setting up the business?

I grew up in Canada and went to university in Toronto, studying business management and minoring in law. I worked for four years as a counsellor with a non-profit organisation, helping ex-offenders to obtain Canadian Pardons for criminal records. In 2015, I came to the UK to visit my sister “for the summer”. I got a job managing a craft beer outlet in London, which quickly developed my love of beer and the brewing industry as a whole. Amy, Paul and I did some home brewing, and we started spending a lot of time in breweries and taprooms (in particular along the train arches in Bermondsey!) We fell in love with the environment and atmosphere that the industry presents and the idea to start our own project quickly snowballed from there.

Tap Social Oxford
Tap Social Movement by Ian Wallman

Why did you decide to set up a brewery as a means to achieving your goal of helping ex-offenders?

The craft beer industry presented so many incredible opportunities for what we were trying to achieve. First, the industry is massive, with new breweries opening every week all across the UK. It’s not geographically constrained and there are constant job vacancies for people to fill. It’s also an extremely relaxed, welcoming and supportive environment. Walk into any craft brewery and I guarantee that the person working there will chew your ear off and want to show you around the brew house– everyone is so friendly and keen to share best practices and ideas, and to collaborate. It’s an ideal atmosphere to motivate people, to make people feel comfortable and confident and to encourage conversation and interaction. There’s also a massive range of jobs and skills that come from brewing; whether it’s the actual brewing of the beer, the packaging and distribution, the warehousing, the sales and marketing, the office operations and book keeping, the retail/hospitality front of house, and more. Brewing creates so many employment opportunities under one big umbrella, and that was really appealing to us.

Tap Social Oxford
Tap Social Movement by Ian Wallman

Tell me about some of the success stories from Tap.

We measure our success in a few different ways. One would be taking on a second brewing site, which we did within 8 months of setting up. We were brewing at capacity on our 1000L kit in Botley, and so we expanded to a 2300L brew kit a few miles away in Kennington. We now brew across the two sites, which has given us flexibility to do some funky experimental brews while also maintaining stock levels of our core range beers.

I think our biggest success would be to look back at our taproom supervisor’s journey. Colin was the first person we had come to work with us from HMP Springhill, back in February 2017. Over two years on, he’s now post-release, a full time employee with us and an integral part of our team/our business’ livelihood. He’s shown us that what we’re trying to do not only works, but has a vital and important impact on people’s lives – and that is such a humbling way for us to measure success.

Tap Social Oxford by Ian Wallman
Tap Social Movement by Ian Wallman

What do you wish you had known before starting your own business?

You can’t please everybody and you can’t sweat the small stuff. It sounds trivial, but the past couple of years have taught me that it really is impossible and unnecessary to satisfy everyone. The most important thing is to believe in your business and the purpose behind starting it, and to stop wasting hours of your life stressing about the hiccups along the way.

Tap Social Oxford

Who designs the artwork for your beers?

All of the artwork used for labels, pump clips and custom designs is created by the men serving at HMP Huntercombe and HMYOI Aylesbury. We visit the art and education departments at these institutions to meet the artists (and the extremely supportive teachers and managers) and explain what we were looking for and to provide a brief for the artwork. Every couple of months, we receive a big envelope full of new artwork and it’s honestly like Christmas day each time – the pieces they create are absolutely brilliant and make the perfect backdrop for our beers. The labels provide a great platform for sharing information on our purpose and raising awareness about the need for more work opportunities for people from the criminal justice system.

Tap Social Oxford

How important is the local community to your business?

It’s hard to even put this answer into words! The community surrounding us (both geographically and socially) has been unbelievable – supportive, welcoming, motivating, and just generally incredible. We feel so lucky to have found ourselves in Oxford, encircled by some of the most interesting and interested people we’ve ever met. We’re also fortunate to have a big space that we open up to the community every day – for coffee, beer, and both public and private events. It’s enabled us to reach and welcome a huge range of groups and individuals from all different walks of life, which is what we feel makes Tap Social so special.

Tap Social Movement Oxford
Sofar Oxford @ Tap Social by Ian Wallman - April 2017

Tell me about your plans for this year.

We have so many plans for the rest of the year! We’ve just ordered two brand spankin’ new 40hL fermenters for the brewery, so our brewing capacity is going to increase substantially over summer. We’ve also got some awesome taproom expansion plans in the pipeline, but I won’t give too much away just yet…!

We’ve also done a couple exciting collaborations which are due to be released later this year, so keep your eyes peeled for those!

Tap Social Oxford

Lastly, which are your favourite independent businesses in Oxford?

This is the hardest question yet! There are so many amazing indies in Oxford, and the best thing is everyone is so supportive of each other and keen to collaborate (largely thanks to organisations like Independent Oxford). I’m a big fan of both Cranston Pickles and Linden Chocolate Lab, so we stock delicious products from both of them on our bar. Arbequina has got to be my favourite restaurant in Oxford and I also spend a lot of time at SILVIE, the Handle Bar and Society. The guys from Sandys on the Move have created a really special bar/service as well. Ooh and The Perch’s beer garden…! In summary, I can’t pick.

Cranston Pickles Oxford
Linden Chocolate Lab Oxford
arbequina Oxford
Silvie Oxford
Handle Bar Oxford
Society Cafe Oxford
Sandys on the Move Oxford
The Perch Oxford

What an inspiration! Tess, Amy & Paul have created such an amazing project that both achieves and supports social change, and has also provided a space for the community and brilliant collaborations between indies to help businesses thrive in Oxford.

See you in the tap room!

Love, Rosie


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