Food For London Now: Our ambitious new kitchen will cook 1.5m meals a year for those in need
The kitchen, an ambitious venture nine months in the planning, will be run by The Felix Project, the largest distributor of surplus food in the capital.
Last year it was backed by our Food For London Now initiative and the Help the Hungry campaign on our sister paper, The Independent, which facilitated their expansion to supply an extraordinary 29 million meals to over 900 charities and schools.
The pandemic has led to a rising crisis of food poverty with one million Londoners furloughed during 2020 and a 128 per cent spike in parcels given out by food banks to people in the capital in the six months to September 2020 compared with the same period in 2019, according to Trust for London data.
Families were especially hard hit: about 100,000 children in London — one in eight — have experienced food insecurity in the past six to nine months, according to The Food Foundation. The Trussell Trust says “high demand for food aid is likely to continue with many families’ financial resilience eroded”.
The social kitchen is our response to this escalating need and will be staffed by 12 professional chefs and 50 volunteers. It will be situated in the heart of Tower Hamlets, where 55 per cent of children live in poverty, the highest rate in the UK.
It has been made possible thanks to a £1 million grant from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, which is managed by the London Community Foundation.
Set over 4,400 sq ft, the kitchen will operate six days a week, 50 weeks a year and will be located on the same industrial estate as the Felix Project’s new purpose-built east London depot in Poplar.
The kitchen is scheduled to open in July in time for the summer holidays so that children left hungry by the Government’s failure to extend the free school meal programme to school holidays can be sure of a daily meal.
The food will go first to children supported by holiday programme providers and schools and community organisations in Tower Hamlets and the surrounding boroughs of Newham and Hackney, where child poverty rates are 50 per cent and 48 per cent respectively.
The kitchen will begin by producing 1,000 cooked meals a day and then scale up to at least 6,000 meals, at which time its reach will extend to feeding the isolated elderly, the homeless and those left unemployed and food insecure by the pandemic.
Additional benefits of operating at scale include its contribution to reducing food waste by transforming large quantities of very short-dated surplus produce and huge commercial-sized catering packs into nutritious meals at a cost of less than 75 pence per meal, making it extremely good value for money.
It will also provide employment and volunteering opportunities to local youths, including those not in education, employment or training to address rising youth unemployment in the area. Anna Taylor, executive director of the Food Foundation, has said that “children experiencing food poverty are in desperate need of a long term solution”.
Whilst this kitchen does not address the systemic causes of food poverty and inequality in London — that would be a job for Government — Felix has committed to running the kitchen for 10 years, creating a physical legacy that will long outlast the Covid crisis.
The £1 million from the Dispossessed Fund will pay for its capital build and refit costs and some first-year running costs. But the kitchen will also need to raise about £1 million a year to fund its ongoing operating costs, including premises rental and staff costs. Felix has already secured over half the first year’s running costs but will be looking for corporate supporters to partner with them in this endeavour.
Mark Curtin, chief executive of the Felix Project, explained the origin of the kitchen and why it was needed. He said: “Over lockdown, when food poverty rates in London began to soar, we started working with restaurants and caterers to produce cooked meals and discovered there was an urgent need among communities for well-balanced, pre-prepared meals. This kitchen will help us reach many more struggling Londoners and provide working opportunities for local people.”
Doug Wills, the Evening Standard’s lead panel member on the Dispossessed Fund, said: “We are delighted that the fund has been able to step in to enable this social kitchen to become a reality. The project fulfils the founding spirit of the fund which was launched 11 years ago to make a difference to vulnerable and excluded Londoners in need of support.”
Corporate supporters interested in helping to fund the social kitchen should email: [email protected]