A chance conversation heard on a bus led Sharon Goodyer on a journey to take positive action to help families across Thanet in Kent access affordable, healthy food. Since she started, the project has grown into a community interest company powered by volunteers. In the last year they have provided vital emergency services through the early stages of the pandemic and then as a ‘new normal’ settled in, they adapted and grew again.
This is the story of their journey. Financial and logistical challenges have cropped up along the way, testing volunteer CEO Sharon’s negotiating skills.
‘Shall I tell you what’s for tea?’
Sharon overheard a mum on a bus describing the un-nutritious meal she was planning for the night. From that point, her mission was set to help families access affordable and healthy food. Her vision wasn’t a food bank or re-assigning food waste, but a project to inspire, educate, and facilitate access to good food with dignity and respect.
The project initially started as a pop-up in 2018 serving more than 16,400 meals to families in the first year. Now three years later, as the need has grown, the project has two food club shops, a holiday food provision programme and partnerships with other local organisations and local government.
In order to use the food club shop, people in Thanet need to become a member. Sharon says: “We are there to help people who want to eat more healthily but find it hard for any number of reasons. This might be financial but also because of habit or housing circumstances.
When registering members, we sit down with each person. There are no boxes or forms or evidence needed. We talk and build up a general picture of how they prepare food. Lots of people tell us they want ideas for how to eat more fresh fruit and veg. They say they want ideas for quick, easy, tasty, meals using local produce. People also tell us they want cheaper, good food. In the food club, there are no fizzy drinks, no crisps or snacks. We didn’t know how this would be viewed but our members say that this makes them feel safer, as every choice they make is a positive one.
Our shop includes tins and packets, also seasonal fresh fruit and veg which is grown locally. We have recipe cards and bundles to give people meal ideas. We cook ready meals in our kitchens and sell those too. We only sell nutritious food.
“We also run cooking classes, share recipes and meal ideas on Facebook, and are an access point for other local services offering support for example with fuel costs and housing.”
Responding to lockdown
“When lockdown started, we knew we needed to act quickly. The families we work with were frightened. The shelves in the supermarkets were empty. They couldn’t get what they needed. It was humiliating and scary in an already frightening time. We changed our model and switched to doing deliveries.
As we scaled up our activity it brought new logistical challenges. There were trucks delivering thousands of bags of fresh food. We desperately needed big properties to store and sort everything. We were able to use the old fire station in Ramsgate.
“By July 2020, it felt like we were moving out of the emergency period so we needed to assess and change again. We wanted to build a more dignified model where people could choose what they wanted. We negotiated and the council gave us an empty shop on Margate high street which we opened in September. The hub in a church hall in Ramsgate followed a few months later.
Over Easter 2021 as lockdown eased again, and with 10 day’s notice, we delivered a free holiday fun and food festival in Margate and Ramsgate. It was attended by hundreds of children, both those on free school meals and those who weren’t. Children ran, danced, trained, learnt new athletic skills in the fresh spring sunshine. We gave away 863 hampers of quality food to families. My team worked their socks off.
Four months ago, when the church was allowed to re-open, they wanted their space back. I had to negotiate with very (very) senior people in the church in order to find a solution. We managed to find some rack storage which meant that most of the floorspace is clear so we can continue to use the hall. Now we open as a food club shop there from 10-3 each day and adjust our timings around the events in the church hall which are mostly in the evenings.”
“We are working on a project to digitise our membership. It’s expensive but once done it will enable us to do all sorts of new things.
We have a vision to expand our range of ready meals to local shops so that anyone can buy them at full price (£3) but our members get them at Food Club prices (65p). I’d love to see our range which is called ‘Shall I tell you what’s for tea’ rolled out across Thanet.
If I think about the scale of the problem, I just wouldn’t get out of bed. But we are making a difference to the thousands of family members we support so we are energised to carry on. We love getting feedback and comments from our members.
Reflecting on the year
“We are grateful to the funders and partners who have helped us this year, including Sustain, the National Lottery, Ramsgate Town Council and the Margate Mayoral Fund. We couldn’t have done it without Margate County Councillor Barry Lewis, our patron and biggest supporter. Our work has been recognised including by the Prime Minister through a Point of Light award in September.
I couldn’t be more proud of what we have achieved this year. We didn’t stop even for a day. Many of our members are our volunteers. We’re all in it together. We have fun doing it but my goodness we work very hard for our community.”
Find out more about the work of Our Kitchen.
This story was originally published by Zurich Insurance on their News and Insights site for charities and community groups.