Students start a ‘pay as you feel’ Community Kitchen

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Every Thursday from the 16th May to 13th June, the bottom floor of North Road Methodist Church becomes a ‘community kitchen’ created by Student Action for Change (SAC).

The volunteers in the kitchen prepare ‘pay as you feel’ lunches, one meat and one vegan option. Most recently, this consisted of butter chicken with rice or naan or Pav Bhaji (a vegetable curry) with bread rolls. This can be followed by a dessert, usually a slice of cake or fruit. The community kitchen provides table service, creating a friendly eating environment. 

Student Action for Change (SAC) utilised Durham University’s ‘venture-lab’ “no-strings-attached” grant to fund the kitchen. Omar, an international student and a SAC representative, told Palatinate that he co-founded the community kitchen because he was “shocked” to see high rates of “poverty”, and “stark wealth inequality” in the North East as a result of wider economic contexts. The North East, and Durham City have seen a rise in homelessness; in 2022-23, Durham City Council review found 120 people were living on the streets. Inequality across the UK, and the Joseph Roundtree Foundation released a report which stated that 25% of the North East live below the poverty line. 

People sitting together at the same table and eating together […] is always a great way for people to connect

OMAr, Co-Founder of SAC

Molly, another SAC co-founder, reiterated this and went on to state that she saw Durham University as a “bubble”, lacking “real engagement with the local community”, yet “there is no need for it [social division within Durham city]”, indicating a need for cross-community social spaces. Omar emphasised that “people sitting together at the same table and eating together […] is always a great way for people to connect”, getting rid of “stereotypes” or “preconceived notions one group may have about the other”.

Molly continued that “the personal experience of seeing friends who struggle through University, combined with talking to local people, and volunteering, showed that there’s not much within Durham city centre which provides these sort of hubs”, a lot of “infrastructure that used to be there is not there anymore”. This is seen in the wider county Durham area.

SAC argues that social division between local Durham residents and University students, alongside economic decline across the UK, necessitated a project like the community kitchen

A report by the Health Equity Foundation and Durham Community Foundation stated there are 34 Left Behind Neighbourhoods in County Durham and Tees Valley. APPG for Left Behind Neighbourhoods defines these neighbourhoods as suffering from ‘social and economic depravity, poor connectivity, low levels of community engagement and a lack of community spaces and places’. 

SAC argues that social division between local Durham residents and University students, alongside economic decline across the UK, necessitated a project like the community kitchen, which provides food for “everybody”. The community kitchen is an attempt to reflect similar business structures, such as the Elvet Methodist church, which provides a £5 Lunch Stop every Wednesday. 

Most people who have visited feel very sceptical of a free and nutritious lunch; Molly and Omar cite people who are shocked to see a community kitchen. Omar reflects that at first, “people who knew [about the community kitchen] didn’t believe it.” Molly added anecdotally, “there were bus drivers who were asking ‘what’s the catch’, and I was like, ‘there is no catch’”. Omar continued, “We’re still trying to gain the trust of the community.” 

The SAC representatives state that they hope to “eliminate the stigma” of going to a community kitchen, specifying that they want to provide food not only to those who lack the means to obtain a well-balanced meal, but also to those who also “would rather spend that money on something else” or want to spend time with their local community. 

SAC is not affiliated with the Student Union or the University. Instead, they are a “collection of students” initiating “direct action” within Durham City. SAC has had other initiatives, for example, a campaign to prevent the closure of Bean Social in February this year.

SAC are hoping to achieve more funding to continue the community kitchen, making it a long-term project, eager to attract more members of the community and students. Their last confirmed event is 13th June, but they want to organise two more events during term.

More details are found on Instagram at @durhamcommunitykitchen or @studentactionforchange. 

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