A centuries-old tradition has been revived for the social media age to encourage young people to talk about the EU referendum.
Coffeehouse debates in the 17th century aided discussion of current affairs before mass media, but now the idea has been given a refresh for the upcoming EU poll.
Thousands of young voters will have the opportunity to go to their local Starbucks coffee shops to talk about the EU, through a partnership with democracy campaigners Bite The Ballot.
It comes as Bite The Ballot and Hope Not Hate pursue the aim of registering 500,000 under 25s to vote ahead of the 7 June deadline, under the banner #TurnUp.
Some 50 events will be hosted in Starbucks’ stores across the UK, with the aim of facilitating debate among over 1,000 young people.
Named DeCafes – or Democracy Cafes – the events are non-partisan and offer younger voters the ability to talk candidly about their experiences, concerns, and ideas.
Following on from events run around the general election last year, the latest DeCafes were launched at an event at Starbucks’ flagship store in central London on Wednesday.
Speaking ahead of the launch, Mike Sani, co-founder and CEO of Bite the Ballot said: “The revival of the 17th century coffee house tradition is extremely exciting. Creating safe spaces for communities to come together to explore politics and become change makers defines what Bite The Ballot is all about.”
Young people in attendance agreed the idea would allow for freer discussion, well away from the ‘old and grey’ campaign trail.
Usaama Kaweesa, 26, told The Huffington Post UK: “The opportunity to just talk about the issues and to have a space to just talk about them and not the statistics. Hearing what other people my age think.
“It is always the personal stories and experiences that make for the best arguments.”
And the debate was as free-flowing as the coffee, with topics discussed including health, education, the economy and housing.
Fatima Kried, 23, said: “I’m originally from Libya and for me the whole EU debate is almost an identity crisis.
“When I got my British passport it was a big thing – it says the European Union – it allows us to move freely more than passports of other nations.
“If we leave the EU, the British passport will mean much less and won’t offer us the same advantages.”
Talking about her own plans to host a DeCafe on Saturday at the Starbucks at the o2, south east London, Fatima added: “Since I advertised the event I have been approached by at least five young people I’ve never heard of.
“There’s huge demand for this sort of thing and it goes to show young people are interested.”
Azzees Minott, 24, works for the Green Party and attended the Bite The Ballot event out of curiosity. “Obviously I’m into politics, and when I say into, I mean I’m in politics,” she said. “But nonetheless it’s good to come and talk about issues people my age care about in a setting like this.
“I was an Erasmus student and spent a year in Spain. It was an amazing experience, and I’m just thinking: ‘I want other people to be able to do that!’
“I’m also sceptical about the current government. Do we really want to give them all the control? I almost find it reassuring knowing that Brussels has some power.
“There’s also the issue of foreign policy, this whole Brexit idea is driven by isolationism, it’s empire state thinking about authority and control, especially when we hear about relations with Commonwealth countries.
“The idea isn’t unlike what we’re seeing with Donald Trump in America. It goes back on the progress we’ve made.”
And Kaweesa, who has publicly campaigned for Stronger In Europe, added: “I’m voting to Remain, but I went to a young people’s event recently and heard the most convincing argument for Leave because it was personal.
“I also hate this ‘Leave and we’ll be doomed’ argument, it’s just total rubbish.
“To be in a down-to-earth setting talking about how we feel, it puts the heart into politics and that’s what these events do so well.
“Can you imagine a panel debate being as relaxed as this? You’d be nervous about asking a question and you’d never hear someone ask: ‘What is the EU?’
“There’s no intimidation here.
“If you’ve been on Erasmus you have a stake in this referendum.
“If you’ve experienced rapid change in demographics in your community, you have a stake in this referendum.
“It’s about personal experience,” he said.