Every day, hungry and homeless, 120 people pass through the doors of Newcastle’s People’s Kitchen.
Thirty years after being founded in the kitchen of a Heaton home, trustees say the service - which receives no council or Government funding - is more needed than ever.
But having created a community around their business, they say they need more volunteers “to feed the organisation so that it can feed the people.”
“People know of us, but its one of those things where people in some way seem to forget about us,” said trustee Colin Herron, who became involved with the charity after a talk at his daughter’s school.
“Yes at Christmas and harvest time we are very much in people’s consciousness, but the rest of the time we can slip out of it. Yet in February, or June, we are still badly needed.”
The People’s Kitchen was founded in 1985 following an Evening Chronicle story of a man whose body had been found in bushes on wasteland in Newcastle.
Deeply saddened on hearing that someone had passed away alone and unnoticed, grandmother Alison Kay, then 75, decided to do something to support the hungry, homeless and disadvantaged, and took it upon herself to make soup and sandwiches from her home in Heaton.
She also went to the city centre to sit with hungry and lonely men, some of whom also had alcohol-related problems.
In time she helped to break down their barriers of mistrust and more and more people came as word spread, and when two friends joined forces with Alison, the People’s Kitchen was born.
By 1994 a permanent base was needed offering food in a sheltered, more relaxed environment, and the Kitchen moved from temporary premises in Blenheim Street to Bath Lane in 1997. Alison died in 2001, aged 91.
“What Alison Kay would think 30 years on? I think she would be delighted by the people we have helped but gutted that after three decades that we are still needing to serve the homeless,” Mr Herron said.
“Yet 30 years on from now, I won’t be here, but I’d still think the homeless will need feeding then.
“And that’s not a reflection on society, but there will always be people on the streets because its where they like to be.
“They can’t cope with modern society and so opt out of it, even if that means a harder life. Some people have been on the streets for 20 years and they can’t move “back. We’ve people who can’t read or write, who have health problems, and who are in their 50s - how are they meant to find work?”
Mr Herron said one of the most common reasons to see people arriving at the charity’s door is the effect of the Government’s move towards a more internet based benefits system and the wide range of reasons for which individuals could see their welfare sanctioned.
“The numbers of people coming to us has increased since the recession and gone up by about 25% recently,” he said.
“Sanctions are biting hard and people are getting sanctioned for all sorts of things.
“Some people are not capable of the admin and might struggle to log onto a computer to comply with their allowances and funding, and some people simply get their applications wrong and so get nothing.
“We also seems to see quite a lot of ex-servicemen who find it hard adjusting to civilian life and can’t cope. And that’s not necessarily that the Army isn’t providing them with support, but some people turn to drink or exclude themselves from that and it’s hard to get back.”
Around 200 volunteers already contribute to the Kitchen but there is a constant need for new blood, not least as in its 30th year the charity looks to widen its offer.
“We have everyone from fundraisers to admin to people serving food to people going to Greggs to get pasties,” Mr Herron said.
“And together we run an organisation that feeds over 30,000 people a year, 120 people a day - and to do that requires a lot of good will.
“We’re an integral part of what the city offers but we do that outside of government structures and we get no government or local authority funding.
“But volunteers age or move away - particularly we get some great students, but then they graduate and move on. So we always need volunteers to help in some capacity - you wouldn’t believe the plethora of skills we need.
“We need volunteers to feed the organisation so that it can feed the people.
“If we don’t have the volunteers then we have to buy in skills and services and that means diverting money away from helping people - and we want to ensure that as close to 100% of the money we have goes towards helping people.”
Currently there are vacancies for cleaners, bid writers, admin support, events assistants, property manager, training assistant and a charity manager.
And People’s Kitchen chair of trustees Bob Eldridge is encouraging people to apply, especially those who may have recently retired or found that they need a new challenge in life to help them keep active and occupied.
“We all like to think that we’ve done something positive for others during our lives but volunteering for a role within The People’s Kitchen gives you a real challenge and the knowledge that you really have helped change someone’s life for the better,” he said.
“And the charity manager role is our most ambitious front line volunteering role to date.
“It’s a very important management role that will lead and help operate the charity on a daily basis ensuring that we deliver our range of services efficiently including; warehousing, outreach and centre based duties. The person will also need to be a good communicator liaising with our external suppliers and partners to create local partnerships. It’s also about on-going learning and improvement, so we can provide even better services in future.
“We’d anticipate that the successful candidate would perhaps be recently retired or someone looking for a change of direction who is up for a challenge. They will need to be a highly influential, motivational and innovative individual who can provide expert advice, management and direction to lead the charity through the next three years, at a time of exciting organisational change.
“It’s a massive role and we are looking for a commitment of around 18 hours per week. I appreciate it’s asking a lot but I know there are a lot of good people out there who have even more to give.
“It’s a role that will shape our operations and give tangible benefits to our friends. It’s not everyday that you can give back to society something as precious as this.”
Looking ahead Mr Herron said the charity hopes to make more of its Your Futures campaign, which aims to help homeless people to improve their lives and break the cycle of life on the streets.
“We really want to help people move on, not just come in and be fed and then go back out onto the streets, and are working with a range of organisations to make that happen,” he said.
“We now have a rambling club, and we’re taking with Sustrans about maybe getting people out on bikes to get fit. It’s all part of trying to provide more than for just their basic needs.”
Already this year the rambling club have walked 26 miles in two stages around Kielder Water and a new allotment has been opened in Tweed Street that will supply fresh food for the Kitchen.
Anyone who is interested in volunteering can see the latest vacancies at http://www.peopleskitchen.co.uk/current-roles/