Roughly twice a week, I find myself working a shift in a basement kitchen, helping to cook thousands of meals a week. I have 30 years of professional experience as an Interior designer. What’s going on here?
Like most people, my COVID experience has been up as well as down. Alongside strict restrictions and curtailed plans, I have more time with my family, am better connected to my neighbourhood and free to do more exercise and enjoy the outdoors. For me, this comes with an awareness about being very fortunate whilst many are suffering. I wanted to contribute in some way.
Being placed on temporary furlough leave in June coincided with a charity called With Compassion moving to the vacant kitchens of our local landmark, Alexandra Palace. Since setting up in March, With Compassion London has been cooking and distributing healthy balanced meals for up to 7,000 vulnerable and key workers a day– all with 100% donated food that would otherwise be thrown away, and prepared by volunteer cooks, kitchen staff and delivery team. I signed up and after completing some food hygiene and health and safety training sessions started my first shift.
I was expecting hard work, but I really wasn’t expecting to get so much back in return.
The pleasure of leaving home, actually going to work and meeting a new and interesting group of diverse people cannot be overstated after many months locked away in my tiny office room at home. How we work will change after COVID but I’ve learned that going to a place of work with colleagues will always play an important part for me.
We are a group of volunteers from all walks of life and economic backgrounds. Some work an occasional half-day whilst others give up most of their free time, but we all work together with shared purpose and endeavour. Apart from the head chefs, there is little or no hierarchy, yet we work efficiently and effectively, gaining experience and knowledge together, welcoming new volunteers and picking up a few chef’s tips along the way. We organise ourselves collectively every day to do what needs to be done. You would expect it might be total chaos, but I don’t remember seeing a better organised (or happier) working group.
In an example of worlds overlapping, we recently collected some professional kitchen equipment donated by our parent company ARCADIS, which is being used to set up our new home in Victoria. We have recently joined with the Evening standard as part of their FOOD FOR LONDON campaign and will be operating from With Compassion food trucks, taking the hot food to where it is needed.
It’s not going to drastically change my life and people shouldn’t have to rely on charity for basic food, but I have found it such a positive experience to not just be focussed on the straight-ahead, but to be able to look around and get engaged in something so worthwhile.
I get back far more than I give.
Read more the incredible work With Compassion here.