Meet the neighbours - The People's Kitchen
The People’s Kitchen has a long history of providing refuge to those living on the street or those recently placed in housing with very few possessions. As well as offering hot meals, the centre shares clothing, toiletries and showers and signposts their service users, who they affectionately call ‘Friends’, to a range of other support services in the city.
We spoke to Maggie Pavlou, Trustee at The People’s Kitchen to find out more about the vital work The People’s Kitchen does.
Tell us a bit about the background of The People’s Kitchen.
The People’s Kitchen was founded in 1985 and was the brainchild of Alison Kay. The fundamental goal was to provide friendship and food to the city’s most vulnerable people and all the way through to today the goal has remained the same.
After just one year of the venture, Alison had recruited 40 volunteers and today the centre is run exclusively by more than 250 volunteers. From back-of-house administration and finance to cooking and serving up food, our volunteers come from a range of backgrounds and give up their time in a range of ways which makes it a real leveller.
Naturally, volunteers are integral to the running of the Kitchen, now more than ever as we’ve gone from serving around 150 meals a night to 250.
What services do you deliver?
The Kitchen is open seven days a week and only closes one day a year – on Boxing Day. We of course provide food, utilising our own allotment for fresh vegetables and donations allow us to buy fresh meat, but we also have showers, a library, clothing store and emergency phones that are so important for those who come to the Kitchen.
We try to ensure that we aren’t duplicating services that are already on offer across the city. We work closely with Newcastle City Council and other service providers including Street Paws who visit us once a month to provide care to any animals our Friends have. We also have someone who comes in to give haircuts to those that want one.
For us it’s all about developing strong relationships with our Friends so we can understand them and their experiences and signpost them to the most appropriate services. I think they appreciate our non-judgemental service and the continuity they get when they visit us. It can be really tough for our Friends to go over the same story time and time again, but here they can trust us to relay information on their behalf to access services that can help them move off the street.
We know we’re a sticking plaster, we haven’t solved homelessness we just aim to make people’s lives a little more bearable each day, but we’re not fixing the problem we know that.
How has Covid-19 affected the operation of The People’s Kitchen?
Overnight we had to close our doors, but we were able to pivot our service fairly quickly. With permission from Newcastle City Council, we were able to reopen as a takeaway service after about a week and that is how we have continued to operate throughout the past 18 months. At the height of the pandemic, we were working with a skeleton staff with many of our volunteers shielding or isolating.
With this new way of operating, we’ve found that our volunteers have been able to spend more time with our Friends, getting to know each other and developing an even deeper mutual respect for one another. Although we couldn’t deliver some of our services, like our outreach vans, we were able to support our Friends in other ways, helping them access vaccines and helping to fill in their Census forms which ensured their voices were heard and they knew they counted.
Having redecorated the centre, trained up new volunteers and run a number of trials we are delighted to have reopened our doors on 1st November. As well as continuing to use our takeaway service, our Friends are able to access our services fully which is vital as we the Winter draws closer.
How can people and businesses support you?
Businesses help and support The People’s Kitchen in a range of ways. We have corporate sponsor partnerships where an organisation may have chosen us as their ‘charity of the year’ and we work closely together during that time, whether that’s through volunteering or fundraising.
Other businesses work with us ‘in kind’ providing products or services for free or at discounted rates. For example, our uniform supplier provided us with boxes of plain brand-new sweatshirts and t-shirts that we were able to give out to our Friends. As we don’t receive any grants or funding, everything we receive is completely through donations.
We do talks at schools who are really good at raising money as well as donations through things like harvest festivals. Raising awareness of what it is that we’re doing and what it’s like to be homeless is extremely important.
On an individual level, we have a plethora of people that volunteer with us, spanning across generations. People from all walks of life give up their time to support the charity from doctors, dentists and teachers to retired people and grandparents. We don’t tend to ask what people do because when they’re here with us, they’re just here as a volunteer and we’re all on the same level.
Some people come to us and ask us what we need, others will come along with all sorts – bottles of pop from the man who owns the corner shop to left over pasties donated by Greggs. If anyone wants to get involved but isn’t sure how, they are more than welcome to get in touch with us.
With the festive period on the horizon, this can be a particularly difficult time for our Friends and we have launched our Christmas campaign to Feed a Friend for a Fiver. This campaign makes it possible for a Friend to enjoy a warm meal in a safe environment with others who understand and care for them and can be vital in giving them the strength to navigate this tough time of year.
What is it like having Newcastle Helix as your neighbour?
I think the people in the Helix community have maybe had their eyes opened to other things that go on in the city that they might not normally see or be aware of. The businesses on the site are very supportive and very curious, just last week we met with a business who were interested in finding out how they could help us. I think having The People’s Kitchen here helps people to keep things in perspective.
We’re in this iconic, older building surrounded by these beautiful futuristic buildings and yet the juxtaposition seems to work well. The diversity in this location is exciting, it’s a vibrant part of the city and it’s also a safe place for people to come to.
Those interested in volunteering their time with The People’s Kitchen can enquire at firstname.lastname@example.org