Brixton People’s Kitchen – a short story

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The one question that people attending our events for the first time ask most frequently is “when did you start and how?” So here is a little summary of our journey, one year on.

1. It all started in conversations.

In Summer 2011, Fan was writing up her MA dissertation on local food, community, diversity and sustainability. This provided her with a good excuse to visit a lot of sustainable food projects all over London, and to have inspiring conversations with food people in Brixton and beyond. One of those conversations was with Steve Wilson, a professional chef, who started the People’s Kitchen in Passing Clouds, East London, and was keen to see the idea replicated in other places. Another of those conversations was with Brixton activist Hannah Lewis, leader of the Remakery, who connected Fan to a good number of local food heroes. And one of those food heroes was artist Virginia Nimarkoh, who had plenty of ideas about how to make something happen. In the meantime, Fan had met Camilla, who just said “let’s do it!”. So we did it.

2. Trying it out.

Virginia connected us to her friend Ego, who runs the Lambeth Women Project, and the Brixton Women’s Institute, and this happened in Octoer 2011.

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3. Becoming regular.

Pleased with how it went, and less terrified by the prospects of setting something up, Camilla and Fan decided to launch the Brixton People’s Kitchen in December 2011. We looked for venues, and found Myatt’s Fields Park. Myatt;s Fields Park have an amazing community greenhouse, and were already running weekly cook & eat sessions. They liked the idea of using food surplus, and decided to give us a chance, and let us use their kitchen for free. We put the word out, and got a few responses from people willing to help. We knocked at the door of almost every corner shop in Brixton to ask for food surplus donations, and somehow, this happened. It was freezing and we ate in a shed, but people seemed to like it, so we started holding monthly meals, getting better and more organised each time. Seeing that the project was here to last, Steve’s People’s Kitchen kindly gave us £750 of funding from the donations they had received to set this up.

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4. Making friends

After a few months, we started getting requests from other organisations to partner. In March, we worked with Transition Streatham to run an event as part of the Streatham Food Festival. It went really well and left people inspired to set up a similar project in Streatham, though this doesn’t seem to have happened yet. In September, we worked on an intergenerational project with the Healthy Living Club, and some young people from The Challenge.

While it was great to work with different people and fun to change settings (and work in professional kitchens!) we also learned a lot about partnerships, and about how we should be better at selling the added value we are bringing to an event. So we decided to focus on perfecting our monthly events in Myatt’s Fields until we would have more manpower to actually pop up in different places in an efficient and rewarding way.

5. Forming a team

The most challenging part of the journey, and the biggest learning for us has been about getting people involved in the organisational side of things. For some long months, it had mostly been Camilla and Fan organising most of the logistics of it, and coordinating volunteers on the day. Not that we didn’t get people wanting to help. Plenty of amazing people who believe in the idea, have approached us because they want to contribute, and a few have been going on food collections with us, put flyers up and spread the word about the project, shared their cooking or chopping skills in the kitchen, or helped with the washing up.

But the challenge was more about getting a regular organisational structure, while remaining informal enough not to put people off. We are still in the process of getting it right, but we are getting there. We now have a group of 8 people who regularly meet to design our events and work together on the future of the Brixton People’s Kitchen.

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6. Getting real

As if all of the above wasn’t real enough, there are two things we have achieved recently, which are making us feel like the ball is rolling.

The first one is getting funding from Nesta, for our mobile kitchen idea (which was suggested by Fiona, one of our occasional volunteers, during one of our public meetings).

The second one is running a successful supper club at the Bonnington Café.

These are two important steps for us, because until now, we had existed almost without any funding. In some respect, it was good, because it forced us to be as resourceful as possible, and it’s amazing to think that it was all built on the good will of so many great people, from our regular volunteers, to our ad-hoc kitchen helpers, and from our food suppliers (Italo, Malinka, Oval Farmer’s Market, As Nature Intended, Best Before, Lays of Chelsea and Langridge Organics) to the local organisations who have helped up by hosting or promoting us.

But getting funding, and having found a way of generating additional income through supper clubs will help us to focus our energy, and to maintain our stamina, in order to run even more events, and inspire similar projects to pop up a little bit everywhere.

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