Food waste and community

Spent Sunday afternoon and evening helping to run a first birthday party for the REfUSE cafe in Chester-le-Street. As one of the advisory board members supporting this social enterprise I helped to prepare and serve a celebration meal for 50 of the regular volunteers who keep this social enterprise going (along with 80 other regular volunteers – quite a cohort!).

REfUSE is the brain-child of two entrepreneurs – Nikki Dravers (the woman in black making a presentation in the photo – who in fact worked briefly for Co-op on food waste issues) and Mim Skinner. They collect surplus food from local supermarkets and wholesalers (including the Co-op depot at Birtley), and use it to provide meals on a Pay-As-You -Feel basis in their cafe. They also run catering for events (such as our 25th wedding anniversary in the summer!), support school holiday clubs and are about to install a training kitchen in their warehouse so that another local charity can train up people who have suffered from metal health challenges in catering/food preparation skills.

The cafe has become a sought-after venue for children’s groups, church groups and runs regular music nights. They were recently only one of eight organisations nationwide to receive government funding under the WRAP initiative to build up and extend their activities and install an industrial freezer facility.

It was amazing to hear the volunteers talking about what a difference the cafe has made to their own lives – providing them with a sense of community and purpose they had lacked, as well as feeling good about serving over 12,000 meals plus hot drinks to over 16,000 customers in the past year and saving 40 tonnes of food.

It is a great example of community action at its best, and would tick many of the boxes for the emerging themes from the Co-op’s Local Community Fund. Providing community spaces – the cafe is becoming a real hub for local groups; mental and physical well-being – REfUSE provides dignity, company and food to those who need it; education and training – both for the volunteers and the new catering training initiative as well as raising awareness of food waste and environmental issues.

It is great to have my small part to play in this amazing and impactful project. Well worth spending two hours peeling potatoes and then providing food service last night! You can find out more on Facebook at Re-f-use or look at their website

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