At the beginning of this year, it’s fair to say we were facing a bit of an uncertain future. After five years, we were on the hunt for a new venue – not an easy task when you’re looking (ideally) for a location in Cambridge city centre! It’s the area where many of our longtime regulars, most of whom are street homeless or vulnerably housed, tend to be – and we strongly felt that we should come to them, rather than the other way round. So began the long, long search…
Luckily, our good friends at Our Lady and the English Martyrs on Hills Road offered us the temporary use of their parish centre. We owe them a huge debt of thanks, particularly Richard Peroni the centre manager, for making it possible for us to keep providing meals to the local community.
Even so, there were several weeks where we had to cancel lunch because there was nowhere to cook it. None of us enjoyed having to let our regular guests down. One bright side has been that we’ve realised how much people value what FoodCycle does. That much has been clear from the disappointment of people when we bumped into them in town and had to answer their hopeful ‘is there a lunch this week’ with a rueful ‘sorry’ – and the broad smiles and cheery thumbs up when we were able to say yes!
After five months making a list of potential venues, a visit from Robyn and Sarah at FC HQ and hearing a fair few no’s – albeit regretful ones – we finally struck gold with Wesley Methodist Church.
Back in April, the Cambridge Evening News published an appeal for help. Unbeknown to us, a couple of members of the congregation took the clipping to their minister Colin, saying ‘look, this is something we’d like to see the church getting involved with’. As luck would have it, Ian – a deacon at the church and minister at Chesterton – is also heavily involved in work around food poverty and community development, having helped to set up a food bank distribution centre there.
While all of this was happening behind the scenes, Robyn and Sarah approached Wesley for us. Its city centre location, close to Christ’s Pieces and halfway between the Grand Arcade and the Grafton Centre – not to mention the fact that it’s on most of the major bus routes AND round the corner from Sainsbury’s – meant it was right at the top of our list.
Talk about a sign!
The initial response from the church seemed positive, but as we always say, the best way to understand (and appreciate) FoodCycle is to see it in action. An invitation duly went out, and we were delighted to welcome Colin for lunch in early June – again, it was really touching to hear the guests telling him (at great length in a few cases) how highly they thought of us. Plus, we wheeled out our legendary (and henceforth lucky) banoffee pavlova, thanks to a bumper pickup of beautiful free range eggs courtesy of Marks and Sparks. We swear, that pavlova may well have magical powers. The smile on the face of Anne, one of our regular guests, when we told her what was for pudding was worth all that whisking alone.
Before we knew it, a slightly dazed Alex was sitting with Robyn in the office at Wesley signing on the dotted line and with a start date of July 2.
It’s been a long time coming, and it’s been stressful on guests and volunteers alike, but today dawned bright and sunny and we just knew things were going to work out. Now that our first cook at Wesley has been and gone, here are just a few reflections on this whirlwind of a ride:
1. We’re very, very lucky to have such great support from across the community. OLEM, Cambridge Food Bank and Cambridge Sustainable Food have all been brilliant FoodCycle cheerleaders. Sainsbury’s (especially Ben, who heads up the produce team), Marks and Spencer, Neil at The Cambridge Fruit and Veg Company and Paul and Doreen at Cambridge CropShare supply us with all the fruit and veg we can eat, week in week out. The enthusiasm with which the new mayor accepted our invitation to lunch, and the fact that he sat chatting away at a table with a couple of our regulars and some volunteers – well, it was really great to see. Plus we had Margaret back as guest of honour, one of our longest standing regulars together with her late (and much missed) husband Eckhard.
2. Our volunteers are amazing. The way everyone pitched in to make today a success was quite overwhelming. Even with the huge mountain of washing up (thanks Greg). Plus it was great to see former hub leaders Benji and Sophie back for a visit (congratulations to Sophie and Chris on their engagement by the way!)
3. Our guests are equally amazing. The faith they’ve shown in us, and the fact that we saw so many old faces in the new place today, is just brilliant. It was great to hear the dining room so full of buzz and chatter. We spent some time out and about too, handing out cards to passers by, and think we got between ten and fifteen new visitors, which was fantastic.
4. We are a strong team. The last few months have been stressful, but it’s made us realise that we’re good at what we do, and that what we do is so worth it. Today was a much needed reminder of just how much fun FoodCycling can be. Three hours, several cups of coffee and a lot of laughter later and that massive pile of fruit and veg was transformed into lunch for 60. Frankly, we can’t think of a better way to spend our Saturday morning.
And finally, huge thanks lastly to Colin, Ian, Barbara and Becky at Wesley for the warmest of welcomes. Looking forward to working together for many years to come! Now, time for feet up and a cuppa…