Don’t let it go to waste.
Regeneration and healthy eating in Berwick.
“At the end of the day I wanted the town to have the ownership of it. I didn’t want it to be something I had done, I wanted it to be something ‘we’ had done”, says 25 year old Millie Stanford, “I wanted to build up some sort of momentum for change in the town”.
Millie is the co-founder of Northern Soul Kitchen, a food waste initiative and pay-as-you feel cafe in the heart of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The project, which recently opened its doors on is based in a previously abandoned shop.
Using unsold food from the local Tesco’s and other small local shops in Berwick they aim to create healthy food in a welcoming environment. Customers pay whatever they think the food is worth, making it accessible for those who might otherwise not be able to afford it. You can even volunteer your time and skills to pay for a meal.
The idea originally was for a single food-waste pop up at Berwick’s 2015 Christmas market. But they soon started thinking bigger. After two years of pop-ups and small events support from UnLtd allowed them to put down permanent roots.
unltd.org.uk supported Millie and Northern Soul Kitchen through Spaces4Change, a programme supporting 16 to 24 year olds to unlock the potential in unused or underused spaces. The programme is funded by Our Bright Future and Big Lottery Fund.
The former home of Tweed Televisions had been left to go to rack and ruin for the last four years. Thanks to Millie and co-founder Harriet, it’s been reinvigorated as the home of Northern Soul Kitchen.
Northern Soul Kitchen is a simple concept, according to Millie, “we intercept the unsold food and create pay as you feel meals out of it”. The ‘why’ behind the idea is more complex.
After meeting with the local community trust in Berwick they realised that there was a real need for a sustainable social project supporting people in the community.
“We don’t necessarily have people sleeping on the streets, but there’s this hidden group of people that you might not see”, says Millie, “Our women’s refuge at that point was spilling out at the seems. And the foodbank was accessed every day and doubled in two years.”
The statistics show rising child poverty across Northumbria, with parts of Berwick among the worst affected areas.
For Millie something needed to change: “I just thought that it was about time that somebody took the bull by the horns and created something. Instead of waiting for the town and the council to do something for us, let’s just do it.”
Community at its heart
As a project Northern Soul Kitchen is grounded in the community it supports. As England’s northernmost town Berwick can feel distant, according to Millie. Setting up a permanent home for Northern Soul Kitchen was as much about a mental transformation as it was a physical one.
“I hoped it would instil that message – it’s completely do-able and we’re not this forgotten town that the council has to help.”
Northern Soul Kitchen is set to be a collaborative community space. It fits with Millie’s ethos of involving the community, she freely admits, “I don’t have all the ideas. I really appreciate people coming out of the woodwork and contributing their fresh ideas.”
Already they’ve worked with local organisations like Calmer Therapy, a local parent group for children with additional or complex needs. With Millie’s background in health and social care, it felt like a perfect match and she agreed to host the group and facilitate support sessions.
Inspiring other local organisations has been a huge success of the Northern Soul Kitchen team. A local law firm offered legal support to get set up and funding for 12 months of workshops hosted in the new Northern Soul Kitchen space for Calmer Therapy came from Berwick’s largest employer, Simpsons Malt.
People in the community have helped with the refurbishment too. The interior of the abandoned shop needed a lot of work. Three recently retired locals offered to help Millie tear out the damp and damaged plywood walls. A local architectural technician did the architectural drawings and helped with the planning applications, all for free.
That’s not to say there haven’t been naysayers. Preconceptions and snobbery are ongoing barriers.
“It’s very difficult to explain to some people that there are people in need.”, says Millie, “We were instantly tarred with: ‘Oh it’s a soup kitchen. Berwick doesn’t need a soup kitchen, Berwick doesn’t have homeless people’.”
While unhelpful and untrue, luckily the attitudes aren’t pervasive. And where they have been encountered the Northern Soul Kitchen team have relished challenging them.
Destigmatizing the idea of ‘intercepted food’ is part of their work too. The new space will empower and educate local people with workshops about reducing food waste and how to shop on a budget.
The above article first published on unltd.org.uk in 2018.