The initial plan was for a sheltered workshop producing wood or ceramic products, before commercial opportunities in what is the world's most enthusiastic beer-drinking nation pushed the project in a different direction. “We had a business manager who ...and more »
Beer might come with a head, but it doesn’t often come with a heart. But nestled in the Bohemian hinterland, the Pivovar Chříč is not your average brewery.
For one thing, it is staffed almost entirely by mentally and physically impaired workers. For another, it diverts all its profits to funding a primary school.
Petr Jakubicek is the brains behind the enterprise, tucked away in a village 50 miles west of Prague.
A brewery was established on the site in 1573 before being closed by the Nazi occupation authorities in 1943 in a move to requisition grain to feed German forces on the eastern front. It was later converted into a collective agricultural enterprise and stripped of its beer-making machinery by the communist authorities who came to power in what was then Czechoslovakia after the second world war.
Reopened in 2016, it is once again producing beer, courtesy of a workforce previously unable to find work because of their disabilities.
The idea for the enterprise was hatched by Jakubíček and his wife Jana as they sought a business model that could provide work and meaning for disabled people in the area, mostly resident in a state facility in the nearby village of Zavidov.
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Sign up here for a weekly roundup from this series emailed to your inbox every Friday“It’s a big problem in this country that we have social institutions that are full of people physically capable of working,” said Jakubíček, 39, an NGO specialist from Prague with experience of devising programmes for the disabled.
The initial plan was for a sheltered workshop producing wood or ceramic products, before commercial opportunities in what is the world’s most enthusiastic beer-drinking nation pushed the project in a different direction.
“We had a business manager who was worried about how to get out of the red,” explains Jakubíček who revived the long-derelict brewery facility with the help of Propolis, a Czech civic group. “We had some examples of good practices regarding social business plans. With wood and ceramics, you may find customers buying it once, but with beer we knew they would want to buy it forever.”
Wheeling crates of beer from a cooling room, Vašek Stark acknowledged his debt of gratitude to the enterprise. Stark, 62, has resumed full-time work for the first time since he was 20, when his career as a specialist machine operator was ended by a road accident that left him with serious brain injuries.
“I like the idea that the brewery is here,” said Stark, one of about 20 mentally and physically impaired workers. “I would have liked to have worked before but I couldn’t because I had to take care of my parents.”
Workers fulfil a variety of tasks, including bottling, labelling, cleaning and delivering, on the basis of individual suitability, and the production process is overseen by a seasoned brewer with 40 years’ experience. All receive a minimum wage of 12,200 Czech koruna (£420 a month), with the higher skilled earning more.
More valuable, says Jakubiček, is the esteem gained by the workers. “The most important thing is that working here gives them a sense of pride,” he says. “It gets them out of the institution, where some residents are more severely handicapped. Some of them might not know the value of money, but most of them can read and write.”
The result is a thriving brewery producing half-a-dozen varieties of lager, stout and ale – including an IPA called Mahatma in honour of Gandhi – which is sold to pubs and licensed premises in cities such as Prague and Plzen.
Demand is increasing, Jakubíček says, thanks to word of mouth and customer satisfaction in a highly competitive Czech beer market dominated by long-established breweries such as Pilsner Urquell, Krušovice and Staropramen, all of which have been bought by foreign owners in recent years.
About 120,000 litres (240,000 pints) of beer have been produced so far this year, with plans to increase production and perhaps recruit more workers.
The profits have helped fund the establishment of a primary school next to the brewery, filling a gap left by the closure of the village’s previous state school 10 years ago. Eighteen pupils – aged from six to 10 – are taught in a single classroom along non-traditional teaching principles based on Montessori methods, overseen by Jakubicek’s wife, Jana, a qualified teacher.
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Beer,Food,World news,Czech Republic,Europe,Mahatma Gandhi,Primary schools,Education