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Helping out to eat in

The mark of community is in its willingness to look after everyone. By Dominic Smith

Nine months since ‘Lockdown 1.0’ began, an army of local volunteers remain essential in ensuring some of our most vulnerable remain fed.

The Garden Café, in St Ann’s Well Garden, has been the hub for producing breakfast and lunch food packs for rough sleepers within the city. The café, run by business partners Juliette Bidwell and Natalie Hall, responded to a call from volunteer Gary Morrill to feed those that were relocated to the city’s hotels during the pandemic.

Brown paper bags cover the tables with mountains of ingredients surrounding them – the place resembling a supermarket stock room, rather than a café you’d relax with a coffee and scone. 

How did the café get involved in the project? “Gary Morrill has been coordinating with the council through SWEP (Severe Weather Emergency Procedure). In March he called and asked if we could provide lunch packs. I think this has been an opportunity for the council to reach people that couldn’t have been reached before. Because they are rough sleeping it’s not always possible to help them get in to accommodation.”

As well as council funding, the operation benefits from FareShare, a charity network helping to bring in additional donations from local supermarkets. Local businesses have also provided what they can. “Gary’s the person very much responsible, and has enabled this whole project to go ahead. His belief is that no matter who you are you should be eating good quality food” 

The team have bought in to his ethos – sandwiches prepared for the packs are the same that would be on the café menu. “It’s been a great project to be involved in – I’ve really enjoyed doing it. Without the volunteers we wouldn’t have been able to do it!”

Producing 1400 food packs a week is no small feat, this is a seven-day per week operation. “The biggest challenge at the beginning was making sure everyone was able to work safely while delivering the service. But, you realise how many great people there are out there that wanted to come and help,” said Juliette. “So it’s not been a massive challenge to be honest, it’s felt very and fluid and easy.  “… maybe getting up at 6.30 every morning isn’t ideal.”

Juliette’s positivity is echoed throughout the team; there’s a buzz around the building and a positive atmosphere, as everyone mucks in together – “get your pics now, these bags will be gone soon.” a volunteer joked.

The work doesn’t stop once all the packs have left the café. They work with other food organisations such as East Brighton Food Co-operative and Holland Road Baptist Church to ensure no excess products go to waste. Additionally, the café remains open for takeaways, provides evening meals for those housed at YHA, and contributed 40 food packs for children during half term – “It’s just generally a situation of people helping one another out.” 

For those wondering if they’ll ever see the Garden Café in its familiar state again, the plan is to return to a fully functioning café, though Juliette insisted “I would still really like to continue to be involved in an aspect of helping to feed rough sleepers.”

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