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How Wintercomfort’s social enterprise puts food on plates

Wintercomfort Food4Food enterprise Picture: Keith Heppell
Wintercomfort Food4Food enterprise Picture: Keith Heppell

Food4Food is one of a growing number of cafes and catering services run as a social enterprise.

Operated by Cambridge homelessness charity Wintercomfort, it provides work experience to vulnerable people.

The Cambridge Independent has launched a campaign to raise £10,000 for the charity to continue its incredible work and cope with the increasing demands of the winter period.

Social enterprise manager Rachel Newell said: “The aim is to build peoples’ confidence.

“Some people have been out of work for some time, and some people have never had a job. It’s about getting them used to turning up on time, being presentable and in a clean uniform, working as a team, what’s acceptable language in a workplace and what’s not and how to serve the public.”

Wintercomfort has two very successful social enterprises that offer valuable work, experience, employment, training and volunteer opportunities for homeless people or those who have experienced homelessness.

The Food4Food enterprise offers both buffet lunches for private and corporate clients in the Cambridge area, while its community café serves freshly-made, tasty, affordable meals and snacks from St Andrew’s Church Hall in Chesterton.

“Food4Food is our longest-standing social enterprise and it started in 2008,” Rachel explained. “Food is a big part of our welfare service. We serve a hot breakfast and lunch, so for our kitchen it was a natural progression.

“It’s all about getting people back into employment who have experienced homelessness. We’re helping them to get job ready and move into employment.

“We see it as a progression through our project – we have a cooking class every Friday where people can learn how to cook a dish and take it away with them.

“We find this is a good introduction to the kitchen as it’s quite friendly and fun. Some people want to volunteer a bit more and some people help serve breakfast or get involved by baking a cake.

“The café is the last step in the progression because they’re serving the public.

“It helps build their confidence – using a till, taking orders, preparing hot and cold food in the café.

“It’s not all to do with catering though. It’s more general skills that I think we take for granted. If you need to start from scratch, sometimes setting the alarm

and getting up on time is the biggest challenge.”

She added: “The great thing about social enterprises is that they pay, so we aren’t dependant on

one source of funding. It means we get a little bit of income for the rest of the charity.”

Last year, 489 guided learning hours were given to 25 people within the café and 10 of those people are now employed.

Food4Food employs a supervisor and four catering assistants alongside the volunteers.

One former service user, who worked at the café but asked not to be named, explained: “I am from Poland where I had my own IT company, doing server and network administration.

“In 2015 I came to the UK because I had personal problems in Poland. I was sleeping rough between November and August. Now I stay at Jimmy’s hostel.

“I started volunteering at Wintercomfort at the Food4Food café in January. The most important thing for me is spending time with my colleagues.

“The café is a friendly introduction and experience for someone who didn’t work in catering at all.

“I hope it keeps going. I enjoy getting time credits too, which I use to go to the cinema and play pool. I like to work, I’m not lazy.”

Wintercomfort then put him forward for a three-week placement at St John’s Chophouse as part of a scheme with owners Cam Cuisine.

“At the end of the placement I was offered a job and I now work there as a kitchen porter.

“My hope for the future is to move into my own flat and maybe get a job back in IT,” he added.

Everyone who works at the café – employee or volunteer – wears the same uniform, a move which Rachel believes is breaking down barriers in the community.

“As the customer, you come to the café and what I love about it is you can’t tell if somebody is a member of staff or a volunteer from the community, or a trainee.

“Everyone has their blue uniform on, so it breaks down barriers and we do not differentiate, everyone is equal,” she said.

“The café has good social outcomes so it’s worthwhile the charity investing money into it.

“We do believe it stands people

in good stead to get into employment.

“It makes it completely worthwhile because it can be very frustrating at times when things don’t work out, but it’s all worth it when you see the results that we get.

“I can see what Food4Food has achieved and it’s about getting people into work.”

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