The former Tapestry Brewery site in Totterdown is soon to reopen as Bristol’s first disability-led brewery, as the charity PROPS has taken over the premises.
The new owners are setting out to break boundaries, change perceptions and create meaningful jobs and a profitable social enterprise for PROPS trainees.
PROPS started off as an after-school club in 2001, with the intention of providing meaningful training for special needs children and adults. It’s developed into a centre that provides training for adults with learning difficulties who come in from 9 am to 3 pm every day.
The next step is for PROPS to set up enterprises and then go on to employ the trainees within the organisation. “It can be quite difficult to get work placements for these adults,” says Tom Medland, the PROPS brewery lead.
“If we can set them up and sustain them ourselves, then it takes out the middle man and then we can be a good provider of work as well as a good provider of meaningful training.”
In terms of their relationship with Tapestry Brewery, the team at PROPS started working with them last year. Sadly, although the partnership was working with the intention of making brewing accessible to all, the combination of being a start-up and having a global pandemic meant that Tapestry had to close its doors.
Having had the opportunity to purchase Tapestry, PROPS is now moving ahead with plans to become Bristol’s first disability-led brewery. It was a bittersweet opportunity, but it was decided that the charity would take over Tapestry from the liquidators.
The team is pioneering a new direction, under the leadership of the PROPS Charity, with the mission of creating long-term meaningful jobs for adults with learning difficulties.
“We brought out two beers with the guys at Tapestry, one of which was a pale ale and one was a rhubarb beer, and through that, we formed a good relationship with the guys there. Because of our link, we were the first to be told about the liquidation which meant we could jump on the opportunity before it was public knowledge,” explains Mr Medland.
“This is, of course, a testament to the guys at Tapestry wanting the brewery to go on in a positive way. Now, we are looking to start brewing at the start of May and reopen in time for summer. It takes four weeks for the beers to be ready, so we are hoping to be ready for mid-June and then be open on the weekends following that for as long as possible.”
So, how will it all work and how are they looking to release three new beers ready for summer? “We will be staffed with our trainees, and because there are so many different roles and jobs within a brewery, it caters for a whole range of different needs,” says Mr Medland.
“All of this will provide more training and jobs for trainees who engage well with the project and, in the future, we hope to be staffed majority by our special needs adults but, initially, it will be double staffed by PROPS staff too.”
The process to get to this point is, naturally, fairly long, as there’s a pretty intense technical training needed to become good and well-versed in brewing. But, from the day they open, PROPS trainees will be staffing the brewery in as many roles as possible.
Mr Medland tells us how brilliant it is to be paving the way as the first disability-led brewery in the city, and is excited by the idea that other organisations could follow in their footsteps. “It’s great,” he smiles.
“It’s great to extend the work we do at PROPS from providing training to having a business that can sustain employment and we hope to carry it on in the next few years. We can sell nice beer and make a positive impact at the same time.”
What’s even more brilliant is how well the trainees are responding to the brewery and the news of a new enterprise to get involved with. It’s not your average job, either, and it’s an incredibly fun prospect for most people to have the opportunity to work in a brewery. “It’s a big opportunity for these guys,” agrees Mr Medland.
“It definitely is all about breaking the barriers about what they deem is a job that they can do. A lot of the time, people get sort of pencilled into a job, for example seeing people pushing trollies around supermarket car parks, and a lot of them haven’t experienced a job that is creative, that they can have fun, and create a product that has their name on it.”
In terms of the mission of PROPS, it’s very much about breaking barriers for the trainees and also changing the public perception about what a disabled adult can do and can work as.
“There’s a big change that can be made moving forward in changing perceptions and allowing the guys who come to PROPS to feel happy in a work environment and feel that their job is meaningful,” says Mr Medland. “They can really put their heart and soul into it.”
On a personal level, what is Mr Medland most looking forward to? “I’m looking forward to having a team of people who are fully enthused in what they do and being positive in every direction,” he smiles.
“I’m also excited to sell something that people drink because they like the taste of it and then they realise the positive and the message behind it. I can’t see any negatives! Alcohol can get a bad rep, so I’m excited to show the positives of it, too.”
What can the people of Bristol expect from this year, apart from being open from the summer onwards? “There are loads going on with the charity as a whole, so I reckon just keep an eye on PROPS around the city,” says Mr Medland.
“We are looking to broaden our impact and footprint around the city. The Tapestry by PROPS site is a little bit further out but it’s on the cycle path so we hope to have a steady stream of people, particularly in the summer.
“We hope to have events and hold some disability-led events, too, including beer festivals that have a positive impact.”
Although Mr Medland can’t give a definite date for the opening, yet, you can expect to see a big public opening on a Saturday soon. Make sure to keep your eyes peeled on social media to hear more!