THOSE three little words that mean so much.
It used to be “I love you”, but nowadays it’s more likely to be: “But first, coffee”. That just goes to show how nearly and dearly we hold that sweet drop of liquid gold.
Coffee culture has boomed on the Sunshine Coast over the past decade and our collective passion shows no sign of slowing down any time soon.
Will Procter, 27, is a man who knows it, and when he went about trying to find a way to connect with the local community and meet new people, it was the obvious medium.
But further than that, Will wanted to create an identity for himself which was more than just “that guy in the wheelchair” and went well beyond “the guy with the cerebral palsy”.
“So, we started a coffee run,” Will said.
The original idea was to deliver the coffees as a voluntary thing, under the name of Coffee I Will. Together with his lifestyle facilitator Jean Boundy, they planned to collect the coffees from a cafe or coffee provider and then deliver them to businesses across Maroochydore.
“We had to become creative in a way: we wanted me to be involved as much as possible, but it’s dangerous for me to be involved with the coffee so I deal with the money,” Will added with a grin.
Will said he came up with coffee run idea as he’d always wanted to be part of the community but wasn’t sure how to go about it, saying it was hard for him to “stick out”.
“Then I found my niche was coffee, and that was a way for me to enter into a part of the community I wouldn’t usually connect with: the working community,” he said.
Will said since starting the business, the support had been amazing and he’d been able to meet people from businesses they delivered to across Maroochydore including 91.9 SEA FM, Haymans Electrical, Nutrition Warehouse and Aerodrome Electrics. But most importantly, the coffee run has built relationships.
“When we first started Coffee I Will, people were a bit unsure, but now I can have decent conversations with them,” he said.
“This was a way for people to see me, rather than the person in the wheelchair, and that I was able to have conversations with them. It’s grown so much and I’ve grown as a person too.
“From my perspective, it’s about people with disabilities changing their own way of thinking. A lot of people with disabilities want the community to come to them and I had that attitude as well maybe two or three years ago, but then I thought I’d try something different.
“I knew I had to change and get more active in the community.”
Will said the amount of support he received now was overwhelming, and people were talking to him more – to the point that he was recognised when he was walking his working dog Stella at Cotton Tree, so it’s now “you’re the guy that does the coffee” and the wheelchair doesn’t even come into it.
He’s also educating the community, speaking to students about their chosen career path and is looking at writing a book on his experiences.
“It took me a while to understand the importance of disabled people being seen as equal members of their community, so that’s where the book will come from, and then there’s some public speaking,” Will said.
“I’m good at conveying my message in terms of disabilities. So the coffee run is a start, but we also want to grow from that.”
Will knows from the experience of starting a business that it will all take hard work.
His initial launch into the coffee delivery business was a bumpy one and it was hard to even find a coffee outlet or café which was willing to help.
“It was a mission at first as a lot of coffee providers were too busy to even look at me, and we had a bit of a negative response from a few people,” Will said.
“It’s disheartening going to all those coffee shops and getting all those nos.”
But Will said he had never been never raised to be looked after and his mum Dianne Procter, whom he describes as a very driven person, was a crucial influence.
She always instilled in him that if he wanted to do something, he had to do it himself.
“I used to be quite quiet, but I’m quite outspoken now,” Will said.
“I had a teacher in Grade 8 that used to tell me to speak up, and if she could see me now, she’d be quite proud.
“I did find going from a child to an adult quite difficult.
“It was hard for me to meet people who could see past the chair. I had to change my way of thinking to say, ‘Hey I’ve got to get out there’.”
It was Craig Davis, managing director of Vincenza Gourmet Coffee in Maroochydore, who came on board to help Will make his business dream a reality.
It was a fitting partnership, with Vincenza being the pioneer of Sunshine Coast-based coffee brands and Will breaking new ground in his own arena.
“There’s just something about Will,” Craig said.
“It’s his drive. It’s his willpower.
“It just resonates with me. With all the barriers he has compared to me, that he can get out there and make things happen is inspiring.”
Craig said the partnership was about supporting Will to achieve his goals, and being able to give back to the local community where Vincenza Coffee was based.
But Will believes there’s plenty more yet to achieve.
“It’s about me talking to people and letting them know that I’m here,” he said.
Will said while it might be a challenge, he wanted people to remember that he was a normal guy and to have a chat.
“I sit in a chair, but I still talk to people so don’t be afraid to say ‘hi’,” he said.
It’s the community which makes the coffee run worthwhile, and Will’s friendly smile which makes it worthwhile for his customers.
If you’d like to get in touch with Coffee I Will, visit https://wproc1.wixsite.com/coffee. Will also co-ordinates a Sunshine Coast Disability social group.