Food For London Now: From bare bones to £1m-a-year hub to help end food poverty

Vincent Wood
·3-min read
<p>Vision: Felix chief executive Mark Curtin with project manager Shane Dorsett on site in Poplar</p> (Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

Vision: Felix chief executive Mark Curtin with project manager Shane Dorsett on site in Poplar

(Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd)

It is cold, dark and — for the most part — completely empty, but a gloomy industrial lot in east London will serve as the home of a food poverty-busting operation that will see thousands of people fed cooked nutritious meals every day in just a few months time.

The site in Tower Hamlets is the planned home for our new social kitchen, which is a lasting legacy of our Food for London Now campaign’s goal to tackle hunger in the capital alongside charity partner the Felix Project.

The development is possible due to the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund which has donated £1million to set up the kitchen. Once open, it is intended that some 1.5 million meals a year will be distributed from this site — all powered by volunteers from a location that is wedged between the financial hub of Canary Wharf and the capital’s most impoverished borough.

In each case the meals will be made at the kitchen and then distributed to those facing food poverty across London, where they can then be heated up by them in their own homes.

“We were looking for a space in east London because we needed to be at the heart of the community,” Mark Curtin, CEO of the Felix Project said.

Originally the charity was just looking for a new distribution depot. Settling on a warehouse location in Poplar, they decided to look at the lot next door to see if they could maximise the space — instead discovering the bare bones of a catering operation.

“We looked at it with the intention to see if we could make the depot even bigger than we were planning to,” Mr Curtin said. “But then we realised it was a disused professional dark kitchen and then the idea was born.”

The ambition now is to create a site that is not just capable of processing vast amounts of reclaimed food, as is done at Felix’s other locations, but also cooking and sending out fully formed meals to those in need. This will allow them to make use of even more surplus food — such as liquid egg or industrial quantities of onions that had proved tricky to redistribute. It will also mean they can meet specific needs like the hunger crisis in school holidays, which last year saw community groups and hospitality operations across the city serve up replacements for free school lunches when the Government declined to do so.

We want this kitchen to be world class and to produce world-class food, so it will be expensive to fit out

The creation of our new social kitchen is a key part of how our Food For London Now appeal has sought to not only provide emergency food to those worst hit by the pandemic but to also create long-lasting solutions to try to alleviate food poverty. However, there is still work to be done — and the challenge of overhauling such a kitchen to make it fit for purpose remains huge. Running the site in the first year alone is likely to cost in the region of £1 million.

“There’s a huge amount of health and safety that we need to build in,” Mr Curtin said. “We want this kitchen to be world class and to produce world-class food, so it will be expensive to fit out — then we’ve got to run and operate it.”

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