Bill and Pete, two of our kitchen leads, at pop-up BBQ event at Ambridge House
The Real Junk Food Hodge Hill Kitchen has become a popular weekly ‘bumping space’ locally, with over 20 regular volunteers welcoming over 100 people (adults and children) every Thursday through the doors of St Wilfrid’s Community Centre, a volunteer-run centre.
This all started with a conversation with Ria, one of the connectors, over a cup of tea. Ria was lamenting about the lack of places to go to eat, have a cuppa, a chat, and naturally get to know neighbours in our community. Ria expressed how amazing it would be to have a cafe in our estate and talked about the Real Junk Food project and how this would be awesome. I just said ‘well let’s go visit one of the cafes’. We both went along and sat chatting with a couple of the people who ran the cafe in Ladywood. We explained we hadn’t a venue, any volunteers, any equipment, BUT we wanted to do this!’ We both didn’t quite know how this was going to happen but committed to chat to others to gather interest.
What happened next was a spark of possibility that emerged in a Harvest Festival service at Hodge Hill Church. Sam Ewell was invited to talk about the cycle of food production and brought along a box of food that was destined for the bin before being intercepted by the Real Junk Food project. After the service, Pete looked at the box and decided he wanted to do something, using his skills from his catering background. I jumped straight in and explained there had been some conversations about a possible cafe. Pete loved it and we had found our head chef! The next step was to bring people together, map our skills and start planning.
One of our early planning meetings at St. Wilfrid’s
We identified that St. Wilfrid’s Community Centre could a possible venue. One of the key next conversations was with Karen and Steve from St Wilfrid’s Community Centre, who were already supporting another TWC!-supported group, and they were up for trying out ‘the Kitchen’ at St Wilf’s. The plans now started to gather momentum, with the passion and enthusiasm of Pete in particular leading to our planning team now involving over 10 enthusiastic people willing to give this a go! The first pilot of TRJFK was catering for the Firs & Bromford Neighbours Together open evening in Nov 2016. The second was doing a food boutique at the local Firs primary school in December 2016. Our ambition though was to set-up a weekly cafe to be called the Hodge Hill Kitchen!
With Pete continuing to pull in more volunteers, he presented at a PIE event for a small amount of ‘kickstarter’ funding. Being successful, we now had the resources to do a pilot of our kitchen inviting local community members to try us out. This led to to the Kitchen launched properly in March 2017, serving hot meals every Thursday, lunch-time and tea-time (after school).
Since March, ‘The Kitchen’ has become a buzzing hub of connectivity. We have families who regularly attend, a local councillor using the space to catch up with residents, members of different groups interacting, people holding meetings over lunch, and we’ve had birthday meals. We intentionally set the room up so people share tables, which means lots of people interacting with each other that otherwise wouldn’t naturally chat. This means the kitchen is a space where new ideas emerge as people talk, and where genuine care and support happens. People describe the kitchen as not just somewhere they come to eat, but as a family.
A consequence of the kitchen’s popularity is the Tea-time became very busy, very quickly, and was feeling too much for the initial team of volunteers by July. A shout-out on Facebook was enough to pull in new volunteers for the tea-time shift. Alongside this we pulled in added support with the kids activities from Worth Unlimited, a key partner organisation for TWC! This all led to the teatime session becoming a space that intentionally encourages parents to do creative activities with their children, and has become a regular connecting space for parents and children.
Another key success of the project is the amount of people who give their time, skills and passion to make it happen. This involves cooking, baking, serving, cleaning, clearing away, welcoming, co-ordinating and planning. One of the lovely connections has been some of the women from Women’s Group have moved across to being ‘Junk Food’ regulars, and have found new opportunities for connection and volunteering. ‘Pay as you Feel’ is a key pillar of The real Junk Food Kitchen. This means people can pay for their meal with money, with time and with their skills. What this means is all are equal whether paying with money or paying by clearing plates and doing some washing up. It also means we are not just ensuring food isn’t going to waste. People’s time, skills, and passion are valued and encouraged. Nothing goes to waste at TRJFK!
We have recently secured funding from Birmingham City Council to upgrade the kitchen at St Wilf’s and create more storage for food. This will enable TRJFP to continue to grow here in Firs & Bromford, intercept more food from local sources, serve more meals, and potentially be able to do pop-up cafes and boutiques in other community spaces. In Firs & Bromford we believe we have ‘conversations that go somewhere!’ TRJFK is an example of what can happen when a conversation ends with ‘let’s give it a go!’
The Hodge Hill Kitchen is part of The Real Junk Food Project Brum, which is part of the national Real Junk Food Project Network . TRJFP diverts good quality food from restaurants and supermarkets which would otherwise be thrown away. TRJFP Brum have regular cafés all over the city, Pay As You Feel boutiques, a Pay As You Feel Sharehouse and run a Pay As You Feel Freegan Box scheme, and as if that wasn’t enough – you’ll see them ‘popping-up’ at many different events around Birmingham.
The Real Junk Food Project Brum Sharehouse in Winson Green open every Thursday