A free hot meal delivery service with a twist has opened thanks to a businessman with ambitions for it to go national writes Tess Colley.
Michael Woolsey, 39, pictured, born and raised in Merton, is normally found running family-owned company The Wimbledon Print Company.
But he put himself on furlough after the lockdown was announced, and decided he wanted to do something to help those made most vulnerable by lockdown: the elderly, families living on the poverty line, and the homeless.
He came up with the idea of Kommunity Kitchen – making use of idle kitchens across the country.
If they could be opened by a volunteer workforce, hot, healthy meals could be delivered to those in need.
Michael said: “There’s a whole plethora of community halls, church halls, sports pavilions, all these sorts of places with kitchens which are closed. So we thought, there’s a whole untapped array of potential locations across the UK.”
The first kitchen was opened in Wimbledon Park Hall two weeks ago, and Michael’s team are in the process of expanding through Merton.
Kommunity Kitchen will also supply hot meals to the SPEAR hostel in Colliers Wood, which provides accommodation and support services to homeless men, women and young people.
Michael has been inundated with applications to help – and he already has 60 volunteers registered.
He has found 15,000 potential locations for new kitchens to be set up.
He said: “My intention is to jump through all the hoops, learn what you need to do to start one.
“We’ll aim to cover Merton because it’s my local borough, but then I want to open up what we’ve learnt and give other people the tools to be able to open their own kitchens in their areas.”
He is currently in the process of completing the ‘how-to’ guide which would allow others to set up Kommunity Kitchens in at least 24 hours.
Once ready anyone will be able to download it and find all they need to know about finding locations, recruiting volunteers, sourcing and cooking food, and getting word out about the service.
Most food orders have come from the elderly, families with children who were previously reliant on free school meals, and disabled members of the community.
Recent meals that have been delivered include a black bean feijoada, a popular Brazilian dish with black beans and peppers, and chilli chicken, an Indochinese dish.
Michael knew nothing about catering until six weeks ago and he has learnt a lot from doing it. He said: “It’s just a case of talking to lots of different people. There’s a huge bank of knowledge that can be tapped into at the moment. It’s like there’s a brain bank out there which can really be put to use.
“There is going to be a large number of people who are still self-isolating, which will fly under the radar a bit, and there is likely to be an increased demand for food in general as there will be an increase in food poverty.
“We’re still learning about where the need is. By the end of the crisis we’ll have a much better idea of where we can best serve that need.”
The flagship kitchen in Wimbledon Park Hall will not be able to be used once the hall reopens. But Michael has been talking to Merton’s Chamber of Commerce and is confident that he and his volunteers will find new venues to keep the service open.
One volunteer, Dania Schmitz, 40, from Colliers Wood, is working with organisations to reach the people who need meals, as well as finding new kitchen locations.
She said: “Food is such a basic necessity in life.
Kommunity Kitchen married really well with the kind of charity I was trying to find.
“We need to look after the vulnerable, we need to have a better net to catch people who are falling through.”
Meals can be ordered at https://www.kommunitykitchen.co.uk/book-a-meal/
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