BBC Radio 4’s Food Programme broadcast on 12 January was devoted to breweries that are working to change attitudes towards people with learning disabilities. One of those companies is Ignition Brewery, a not-for-profit organisation based in Lewisham, south-east London, which recently released a collaboration beer with Gipsy Hill Brewing Company as part of the Social Beer Collective.
Ignition started life when director Nick O’Shea realised that 94% of people with a learning disability were unemployed and decided to do something about remedying the situation. He therefore founded Ignition, which employs and trains people with learning disabilities to brew beer and to serve that beer in the taproom. Nick decided on brewing because the process can be labour intensive and, at a certain scale, Ignition could make enough money to cover operating expenses and pay people with learning disabilities the London Living Wage.
Ignition employs a head brewer and a bar manager, who supervise and oversee the training of the team members who have learning disabilities. In some ways, the business model at the brewery is the opposite of what you might expect: it’s not constantly looking to make its processes more efficient as the purpose is to provide as many opportunities as possible to those who might otherwise be unable to find a job. In fact, the more beer they produce, the more jobs they hope to be able to create.
As Nick says, “the ethos is simple: our team have a lot to offer and with the right support and care, they can make beer that competes on the open market. Our patrons buy our beer because it tastes great, as well as because of who brewed it. And that is just how we like it.”
The brewing kit is relatively small at just 2.5 brewers’ barrels. Brewing usually takes place once or twice a week and all the bottling and kegging takes place on the premises. The team take part in all the brewing processes and Ignition is looking to introduce more formalised brewing training for the team over the coming year, in order to build on their practical skills and make their day-to-day experience more rewarding.
At the front of the building that houses the brewery is the taproom. This serves four regular Ignition brews in bottle-conditioned form and from Ecofass kegs (the beer is conditioned in the bag and no gas touches the product). The four regulars are: South of the River (a 4.2% ABV pale ale), Jump Start (a 4.6% ABV IPA), Well Oiled Machine (a 4.8% ABV London porter) and GTI (a 5.5% ABV double dry-hopped APA). There is also a range of specials that varies throughout the year. The current special is Spark Plug, a 3.8% ABV single-hopped extra pale ale.
You can find the taproom at 44A Sydenham Road (SE26 5QF) and it is open from 5pm to 9pm on Thursdays, 5pm to 10pm on Fridays and 2pm to 10pm on Saturdays. It can be booked for special events on Sundays.
The Radio 4 programme is available here.
Dave Rathbone – Head Brewer