Beyond Food Foundation
By Big Issue vendor Sharon Payne.
The Beyond Food Foundation (BFF) runs two programmes to help people who either are, have been, or could, become homeless. Started by chef Simon Boyle, the Foundation aims to provide valuable skills, along with self-confidence in order to help people to gain meaningful employment. Boyle originally invited homeless people at to cook and eat with him through his events catering business but it wasn’t until September 2011, when, through a unique partnership of the private, public and voluntary sector Boyle was able to open Brigade; a social enterprise restaurant based in a historic ex-fire station in Tooley Street near London Bridge, which would also become the home for the Foundation and its programmes.
The two BFF programmes – Freshlife and United Kitchen Apprenticeship – use working with food to build individual skills and confidence through hands-on training and theory work, alongside one-to-one support and group mentoring. Both courses are promoted by hostel staff, key workers and outreach staff among the homeless population and posters are displayed in hostels and homeless drop-in centres all over London. Word-of-mouth also plays a big part.
Today, a small but dedicated team is committed to achieving success across a range of people, with various personal circumstances, who are street-homeless, vulnerably housed or living in temporary accommodation, hostels or their own flats.
Freshlife. The Freshlife course is a six-week series of interactive, workshop-based sessions. The first two of these take place in hostels and there are live cookery demonstrations, a tour of a local food market, a day of college-type work and also a chance to cook and dine at The Brigade restaurant. The course aims to show that using a limited income in an imaginative way to buy food can enhance well-being. The Foundation is keen for people to progress through the course at their own rate and have as many chances to complete it as they need. Finally, a two-week, part-time pre-work placement working alongside the Brigade kitchen team can result in an interview for the United Kitchen Apprenticeship.
United Kitchen Apprenticeship. This apprenticeship programme for up to 14 apprentices leads to an NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery. All applicants also receive one-to-one and group mentoring and advice on a wide range of subjects including housing, benefits, form-filling, working tax credits, health, taxation, job applications and what to expect from the work environment. The apprentices work alongside a Brigade chef so that they have their own personal tutor and they feel part of the team on all levels.
On the first course that ran 13 people started, 11 graduated and 9 went on to find employment, including a 57-year-old apprentice who now works at a hotel in the New Forest and, reportedly, is thoroughly enjoying the change of scenery. Support from the foundation staff continues even after the course has finished. They keep in touch with past apprentices and even help with finding subsequent jobs.
The Future of the Foundation. Charity Manager Rachel Lock hopes that over the next year the foundation will expand to support even more people and she also feels that this charity model could word in other areas as well. The most rewarding thing for her is “seeing people start to believe in themselves”.
On the day I visited Brigade a Freshlife group were cooking up fabulous smelling bruschetta and I met two of the group, Stewart Davidson and Damien Autrey. Stewart has finally found accommodation and is now doing a United Kitchen Apprenticeship. Damien who is in temporary accommodation has also progressed to the UKA and said, “the course has been very interesting”.