• Corin Bell

In times like these, you really know who your friends are

Updated: Apr 9

Late last week, I was out for my one hour state sanctioned exercise, when my phone rang for the 8 millionth time that day (that’s been a thing since this whole crisis started). Lately phone calls and emails have been a pretty even mix of people asking for Open Kitchen MCR’s support, and people offering to support us.

Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down by COVID-19. I’m still surprised every single day on hearing new, and previously un-thought-through implications of the pandemic on people, industries, groups of workers, and those most in need. I thought my life was pretty strange BC (Before Corona – yes that’s a thing now, go with it). Running a waste food not for profit catering social enterprise isn’t exactly a common day job. Life for the last 3 weeks has just been surreal. We’ve heard some pretty grim tales recently, and there have been some moments and realisations that have been really tough to take. Turns out people react to a global pandemic in myriad and unpredictable ways, some pretty awful, some neutral, some inspiring. You only need to look at Hotel Football to see the right way to respond to a crisis like this.

It’s easy to focus on the negatives at a time like this, but there are amazing examples of people, organisations and businesses all over Manchester, Greater Manchester, the UK, Europe (miss you guys), the globe, doing amazing things for others and demonstrating the absolute best of humanity, and that’s what we want to focus on…..

So I’m in the park, my phone rings, and it’s Carol from Onward Homes. Onward Homes are the Housing Association whose building we moved into 18 months ago now, because they had a disused commercial kitchen. They very kindly offered this to us rent free so that we could trial our “waste food outside catering” idea (which was going very well thank you, until around the 20th of March). Onward Homes have always been very supportive of what we do, and they had heard about our very rapid shift from catering social enterprise to Coronavirus emergency food provider for vulnerable people.

Carol says hi, asks me how it’s all going, and then proceeds to make me cry and share many loud expletives across the park by telling me that the top brass at Onward have had a bit of a chat, and they want to give Open Kitchen MCR £25,000 to keep us going while we support vulnerable people across Manchester. £25,000! We didn’t ask for it, we didn’t write a bid, we were too busy cooking and trying to work out how to make delivery drivers materialise using only thin air and good intentions. I don’t really have the words to express what that support has meant to the team, but it means a damn sight more than a number. It means we’re trusted, it means we’re supported, it means crack on and do good things, and we will.

And it doesn’t just stop with Onward Homes. To say the last 3 weeks have been hard work doesn’t really cover it (but we’re not NHS Intensive Care Workers, so we’re not complaining). But in amongst some very long, very hard days have been the following; no less than 4 companies (JLA, AO, FSW Catering Equipment, Frostbite) loaning us free fridges, freezers and fridge trailers, Tetley Tea donating 18,000 tea bags, Social Chain offering us the use of their entire office for the duration of the crisis, Isuzu giving us a display model vehicle to move extra food around, fellow local food poverty project The Bread & Butter Thing sharing supplies with us, Chef Mary-Ellen McTague rallying the entirety of Manchester’s hospitality sector to get food that will go to waste to those most in need, the food response team at Manchester City Council working 16 hour days since the crisis started to keep up with demand and ensure no one goes hungry (big up Victoria Harper at MCC, you’re a legend!), Tim at Fat Loaf phoning to ask if he can buy us supplies every week despite the fact that he’s just had to close his restaurant for the foreseeable, and just last night Lineage Logistics stepping up to help us save 1.1 MILLION frozen airplane ready meals from going to waste. Not to mention so many people offering to volunteer to help us pack and deliver meals that we’re struggling to respond to emails (bear with us, we WILL get back to you!).

Things are really tough right now. Some people are feeling incredibly isolated, some people are feeling very helpless in the face of a global pandemic, and some people are really feeling the scarcity of this. But it’s also bringing into sharp focus what’s really important, which relationships matter, and how powerful we can be in creating the world we want to see, locally, across our city, and beyond.

We love you Manchester. You’re a bunch of legends. Thank you so much for all your support. And we’ll be here cooking as long as you need us.

Giant thanks!

Corin and the (ever expanding) team (of staff and volunteers) at Open Kitchen MCR

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