Tag Archives: food

Signs of the times


Last Friday (Black Friday) I took a walk around the evocatively named Wheathamstead – a picturesque Hertfordshire village listed as England’s 20th richest in a 2011 survey. I drive through the place pretty much every weekday but only really visit the fish and chip shop and public toilet.

I realised how little I knew about Wheathamstead when looking at the notice board by the car park. An advert for Small Business Saturday exhorted shoppers to ‘shop local’ on at least one day – 5 December 2015 in the UK – fair enough.

sIGN OF TIMES 3But it was another advertisement on the notice board that surprised me – for the Wheathamstead Food Bank. Yes, a food bank.

Decades ago I remember being told by someone who knew about such things, that there were children dying of malnutrition in Chester. Hard to believe if you know Chester, but that was 45 years ago. It’s scandalous that Wheathamstead in 2015 is not immune from the ravages of government cuts. And the austerity doesn’t stop at the Food Bank – around the corner outside the church is a banner advertising the Credit Union. A Credit Union is a save and borrow facility helping those the high street banks won’t touch; not the sort of resident you’d expect to find in a village like Wheathamstead.

Which brings me to my passion for ‘make and mend’ to save money and the environment. I’ve always wondered why the much publicised mantra ‘reduce, reuse, recycle’ does not include the fourth R – repair.

At the Repair Shed in Hemel Hempstead, we’re trying to do our bit to rectify this omission. This year we’ve run four very successful Community Repair Days – people bring their broken items, we assess them for free and, if possible, we fix them. We also do affordable paid-for repairs, but we’re not in the business of putting professional repairers out of business. We describe our facility as ‘a clinic not a hospital’ – if we can’t do a relatively quick fix but decide the item is repairable, we’ll recommend local businesses that may be able to help.

So, last Black Friday – a US import that in my opinion brings out the worst in otherwise reasonable people – I had my eyes opened in Wheathamstead. They say that poor people living in affluent areas are doubly disadvantaged because they are effectively invisible. Not so in Wheathamstead it would seem – the whole community appears to be pulling together in hard times. A silver lining in a dark grey cloud.

For photos of the Repair Shed Community Repair Days go to www.facebook.com/TheRepairShed More about Small Business Saturday at http://www.smallbusinesssaturdayuk.com

Fast food, lifelong learning

Barry AllardDespite the best efforts of the slow food movement from Italy, the prevalence of ‘fast food’ and all it stands for disguises the real time it takes to put a nutritional, high-quality meal on the table and under-values the wider health benefits of cooking.

Luckily people like Barry Allard and LEAP CIC in Norwich know how food and catering can give direction and purpose to individuals leading often chaotic lives. Some of these people are now benefiting from a new enterprise – The Feed – as Barry explains.

“At LEAP we’re about supporting homeless people, or those disadvantaged in other ways, to lead more fulfilling lives. We’ve recently launched a catering enterprise – The Feed – to develop specific skills, while also providing coaching and training; person-centred support. Learners achieve personal development goals – in self-esteem, taking responsibility, dealing with the past, planning the future, gratitude – all the time getting support for progression towards employment.”

leaplogoThe journey into work for LEAP clients may be relatively short, but for others it can be a long term association. People with complicated home lives, furthest from the jobs market, can get the kind of extended support from LEAP that other schemes often simply cannot afford to offer.  One trainee is now employed at LEAP, and it’s hoped others might follow as the enterprise grows.

I wondered how Barry and LEAP got into food and the idea of setting up The Feed in the first place. I discover that, like me, Barry is passionate about food. He also points to the creativity and health benefits associated with catering.

The Feed logo“With cooking, you can get tangible results by making something quickly – a sense of achievement for the person doing it. In the longer term we hope to set up an academy with a 12 – week programme so more learners so they can get their hygiene certificates and develop particular skills – in pastry, for example –  from local chefs”.

Healthy eating is an important part of the LEAP offer: “We’re modern in terms of street food and event catering, but the food still has that healthy kick” says Barry.” As a social enterprise we also aim to embrace ethical supply in the business – we buy local wherever possible.”

I wonder what Barry’s advice would be to someone thinking of starting a social enterprise and getting into catering?

“We’re there to help homeless people into work, but it’s not an easy busy model – working with unpaid trainees in low-cost at one level, but expensive at another- managing volunteers is demanding. So I’d advise you to get support and advice from others who have already been there. Finding mentors is really important. There are people around who can reduce the fear as you go into the unknown.”

“Catering is very hard work. People often don’t realise how much preparation goes into putting food on the plate. And it’s not easy to build all the preparation time into the price of the finished product. Planning, managing trainees, producing good quality food, and making money is a difficult juggling act.”

I leave Barry with a mental image of a chef in a busy kitchen frantically spinning plates on the ends of sharp knives and decide to stick with my particular passion for food – eating it – rather than Barry’s – creating a business with it.

Find out more about The Feed at http://the-feed.co.uk and on Twitter @TheFeedCIC

Barry is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

Fast food for hungry learners

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way. 

We’re sitting in a busy coffee shop in central Cambridge [declared interest – my daughter works there, but no free drinks I’m sorry to say]. I resist the temptation to devour the rest of my chocolate chip cookie sitting enticingly in front of me as I learn about healthy eating, and much more, from Amanda Keel.

fullspoon2bAmanda has cooked up FullSpoon – an enterprise which aims to show different, mostly vulnerable, groups across Cambridgeshire how to prepare healthy low-cost meals for themselves and their families. Two groups with whom Amanda is currently sharing her expertise are young families and adults with learning difficulties and disabilities.

The parents are involved with their under-fives – the children learn where food comes from and the parents learn to cook. Amanda explains that some of the young mums come out of school with just basic domestic science. “They may not even know how to peel a potato – but they’re keen to learn.” I innocently ask if dads are welcome…“Some get involved, but they tend to take over!”

We talk about the role of cafes in providing work experience for adults with learning difficulties. “All the adults I work with would be capable of working in cafes” says Amanda. “They like being involved with other people – so often they’re isolated, and it makes them visible.” It’s then Amanda alludes to FullSpoon’s ‘unique selling point’.

“The learners really get involved and like being part of the group. This is the important thing about FullSpoon – it’s not just about cooking skills, healthy eating, health and hygiene, and budgeting, it’s also about sitting down as a group and eating together.”

I say this reminds me of the slow food movement which originated in Italy – growing, preparing and eating slowly to savour the flavour and increase the pleasure. Amanda is quick to point out that time is one thing she doesn’t have. “Which means many of my recipes are like healthy take-aways!”

Amanda Keel looks on

Recipe for success – Amanda Keel looks on

While food is a part of childhood for all of us, for Amanda is was even more ever-present. “I grew up surrounded by food because my dad was a chef. We lived in hotels and restaurants and pubs – they were my earliest memories. I now see food as a springboard – it’s easy, everyone loves it, gets passionate about it. It’s a starting point, from cooking and eating to other learning – English [Amanda is trained as an English language teacher] Maths, Science.”

Thinking of her own experience, Amanda’s advice to others starting a business is to stick with it. “You’ll have a huge idea at the start, with blurred surroundings so you can’t see how to get to destination. But be guided by your achievements and successes.”

Amanda assures me she has a destination and a map (her business plan) – but there’s so much need and work to be done and so little time to digest all the ideas [including ‘helpful suggestions’ from people like me] it can be daunting.

She tells me there are lots of other groups she’d like be working with, including older people. I mention my personal interest in the wellbeing of older men (a focus for my own enterprise development) and I’m delighted to hear that Amanda has classes for men who have lost their wives and know relatively little about cooking.

We finish by talking about food waste and so, as Amanda leaves to fight her way out of Cambridge, I sneak the remainder of the chocolate chip cookie into my mouth. I hope no one is watching and promise myself a run later that evening.

To find out more about FullSpoon, contact Amanda at fullspoons@gmail.com, or call her on 01223 926221

Amanda is in the 2013-14 cohort of learners with the School for Social Entrepreneurs on
the Lloyds Bank Social Entrepreneurs Programme at the Eastern Enterprise Hub in
Ipswich http://bit.ly/1c6lQsj

A recipe for healthy habits

Experts by Experience: Profiles of entrepreneurs at different stages on their journeys, identifying and sharing some universal truths along the way.

My father used to say that a cook is the last person to be killed in a revolution, so it’s a good career choice in unstable times. My mother was a cook for the last 10 years of her paid working life but there were no revolutions – inside or outside the kitchen… as far as I know. My mum believed that making and sharing food with others was an act of love.

Which reminds me of a very old [Shakespeare-influenced] advertising slogan – ‘If music be the food of love… come and eat at Chappells’ [Chappells was a music shop in Bond Street London dating back to 1811, now re-named Yamaha Music – a sad sign of the times].

My own relationship with food is more pragmatic – I love it and can get excited about a meal for days before I actually eat it. I also ‘run to eat’ so that my affection for food isn’t too obvious in my body shape.


Which is a very roundabout* way of explaining why I was more than happy to be interviewing Sam Speller, the man behind the All Seasoned food business in Letchworth, one sunny morning a couple of weeks ago.  I remember the sun – we met for the interview at the first floor premises of the All Seasoned Cafe and it was bright, light and airy – very calming for customers and staff.

Which is just as well, because All Seasoned provides catering training and work experience for people who, in Sam’s words “are in recovery from substance abuse issues… vulnerable from life choices they now regret.” Sam can empathise with them – his experience in catering was his own route to recovery. 

Sam - All Seasoned - SpellerThe cafe is part of a catering business which has three elements – or should that be three courses? The Cafe – strategically attached to an art gallery in a shopping arcade; buffet catering for businesses; and The Street Cart – ‘good food on the go’ at markets around Hertfordshire. Street food may be big in London, but it seems it’s still to take off in Hertfordshire. Sam tells me that outside catering accounts for 70% of income, the cafe 30%, but “at the moment we’re lucky if we wipe our nose with the street food.” [For those with an over-active imagination this means it barely covers costs].

The All Seasoned tie-up with parent charity CRI (Crime Reduction Initiatives) means that all volunteers are training in food safety, with the option of getting experience in a commercial kitchen or in a less pressured front-of-house role (if you can’t stand the heat…etc)

The structured routine that Sam describes for the volunteers belies the care that comes with that support. “We are open about their commitment – we agree what hours are realistic, we want to get them into a routine, give them some structure in their lives. Gradually they build up confidence and hours – six months is really the minimum commitment to cement a routine, break the monotony of sitting at home, to get into the habit of coming into work, and to get comfortable in the workplace”.   

I wondered whether, given his experiences (including setting up Seasoned Training before All Seasoned Catering) Sam had advice to pass on to other entrepreneurs. “Research and networking is important. I didn’t know what I was looking for at first. Look at what’s around – it will help you focus your own ideas. By researching other social enterprises (not necessary in food) I found parallels and learnt useful lessons.”

Sam has further sound advice about developing a business. “It takes time to build up reputation and loyal customers – I favour word of mouth over any other publicity. I stress with the guys that it takes a long time to build a reputation but a second – one hair in the food – to destroy it. So we’re very strict on quality control.”

As we part, I discover Sam’s not against risk-taking to get his street food noticed. “At Easter, we’re thinking about doing bunny burgers – I like a little bit of fun with food – it might not work in Letchworth, but…”

Find out more about All Seasoned Catering at www.allseasoned.org

*Appropriate as Letchworth in North Herts is the location of the UK’s first roundabout (‘built circa 1909’ the sign says).