The Freedom Centre’s free hot three-course meal service is often the starting point for vulnerable people to begin accessing other services that are aimed at helping them to transform their lives. Freedom recognised early on that it was important to make sure people weren’t hungry before anything else as clients cannot focus on other issues in their lives until that basic need is met.
The feedback received from clients illustrates the importance of this core service, central to many of the other support systems now in place at the Freedom Centre. 72% of Freedom’s clients eat at the Day Centre each time they visit and for 78% of them this is their main cooked meal of the day, for others, their only meal of the day.
‘Having a hot, nutritious meal here means I can be full and I’m able to take my medication.’ says one Day Centre user, whilst another chimes in ‘Without this [free hot meal] I would literally be starving hungry. But here I know I always have somewhere I can eat, it’s never bad and always cooked properly, plus I can take some home for my girlfriend who suffers from severe anxiety and can’t come in herself. It’s a god-send.’
The free meal service started out in the early part of this millennium as a humble once per month soup kitchen run by the Freedom Church, other local churches and agencies. The soup kitchen proved to be successful beyond anyone’s imagining and over the years changed premises twice to accommodate the additional services that were seen to be needed in the community, including a life skills programme to teach clients basic cooking skills.
By 2007 Freedom had moved to their current location in Howard Avenue, Barnstaple, with a fit for purpose kitchen and café style eating area where clients could relax and enjoy a free, nutritious, hot three-course meal Monday to Friday cooked by their Kitchen Manager, Alice Westcott and a team of volunteers.
Along with overseeing the delivery of a healthy nutritious meal five days a week, Alice developed a client volunteer scheme that allows Day Centre users the opportunity to be trained in hospitality skills that can then be easily transferred to paid employment. With a passion for cooking, a good understanding of the client group and a background in teaching, Alice is able to teach people how to cook nutritious meals from scratch, develop their living skills and confidence in self-care basics like cooking and hygiene.
‘Being able to feed people who may not be able to get food elsewhere and working with a great group of volunteers are definitely favourite parts of my job. Along with teaching clients, it is a pleasure to be able to pass on cooking skills and watch people grow in confidence in the kitchen. For the volunteers I work with – currently a group of 16 people – I think it gives them structure to their week, a meaningful occupation and a sense of purpose being able to help out in a kitchen, and of course, they get cooking lessons in the process along with something to put on a CV to help with their search for paid employment.’ Says Alice of her work in Freedom’s kitchen.
This year Freedom’s kitchen service has seen increasing donations from local supermarkets. The food redistributed is fresh, quality, and in-date surplus from the food industry, by sending it to charities and community groups like Freedom’s kitchen it can be transformed into nutritious meals for vulnerable people.
This and the donations received from Freedom’s supporters make up most of the meals that are provided. The talent of being able to take sometimes odd ingredients and consistently turn them into a tasty, nutritional meal for those who need it is something that Alice tries to pass on to clients who participate in her cooking classes too.
Typically, the kitchen team serves over 1000 free three course lunches every month, that’s around 50 free lunches and countless mugs of coffee and tea each day for the people who use their service - the homeless, vulnerable and disadvantaged in our communities. For some of them, it is the only thing they will eat all day.
You can support Freedom’s Kitchen and other services here.