MADE IN HACKNEY
Text Anna Sulan Masing @annasulan
Photos Jørn Tomter @jorntomter
Made in Hackney is a charity, founded by Sarah Bentley and Joshana Lovage, that looks to ways to support the community through food. At the heart of this has been cooking classes and a belief that everyone deserves healthy and delicious food that is kind to the environment. Because of their close ties to the community, and serving those most vulnerable in it, the team had become aware of the impact the Coronavirus might cause, ahead of the governmental lockdown.
“We closed down our cooking school and began shifting to cooking direct-to-door meals. We understood straight away that our long-term goals – which we see as lifesaving – in providing skills and access to good, health food had to be viewed in the now; we needed to respond to the immediate” Sarah explained. This meant setting up a referral form online and reaching out to all their partners, such as social services, Citizen Advice Bureau and elderly charities, for them to refer anyone who was in need, and they set up a crowdfunder to support the project.
The response was immediate, both in financial support and in recipients in need, which caused an issue as the small cooking space in the basement of health food shop, Food For All, didn’t have the capacity. As luck would have it, the exact moment that Sarah was surveying the space and wondering what to do Josh, from Angelina restaurant on Dalston Lane, called having seen the crowdfunder and asked if there was anything he and his team could do; so the cooking operation moved into the restaurant.
“We had worked with Josh before, and therefore knew him and how he worked which was crucial” Sarah said. “Not only did this project need to meet the absolutely highest of hygienic standards, it also had to deal with high levels of [sensitive and personal] data” the system they are operating can only be done with an incredibly efficient system; Sarah joked that actually what they have become is a “highly advanced data management charity”. They are currently serving 420 meals a day, just to the Hackney area, and hope to upscale the numbers as soon as possible.
It is an incredibly sobering thought to understand these numbers, “we realised that it was not just those that are already known as vulnerable people, at this time we are also serving those who had been doing an incredible job at managing and coping previously, but who are now not able to” Sarah explained. The need is greater than they are able to accommodate at the moment, and they operate a waiting list. “We are turning away approximately 50 people a day, it is heart-breaking; this includes some people who are calling us direct and we have to say no” Sarah said.
The food is entirely plant-based, this is because it has to meet cultural and religious needs, adhere to dietary restrictions, and meet the environmental ethos of the charity “we cannot be serving cheap meats” said Sarah. “This has also led to some interesting conversations though, such as lentils and bowl movements!” Sarah appreciates that people don’t want different things in these times but has found that it has led to lovely and engaged conversations with the meal recipients, “we are not here to change hearts and minds, it is just the best option for this service.”
Because of the numbers involved they are buying produce at wholesale prices as well as getting donations from various organisations. Edible London have been a particularly generous supplier of local organically grown food, Felix project has also been able to donate produce, Artesian Vegan has been donating their okara (soy pulp, after making tofu), Death by Cake has donated vegan flapjacks for this Friday’s delivery and Made in Hackney have also been able to buy from Spitalfields Farm which has been a great way to support them too. Currently they are paying Angelina a nominal amount, like Made in Hackney, the restaurant team jumped into a need with faith that help will come to also support their staff, via the council, individuals and/or crowdfunding.
The food is cooked and then cooled down, so that it can be heated when needed. It is then delivered via a two-bike system – one courier biker who is paid, and a bike buddy who is a volunteer. Each team has 25 meals each, and there are 10 teams (20 bikers); it is important that the one person delivers to the door (whilst the other looks after the food and bike!) and that the recipient is seen – at a safe distance.
“Part of our system is about having regular contact with everybody, we call all those on the list to check in, to make sure theory meals were ok, that dietary needs were met” Sarah said, through these calls and courier sight-contact they have been able to help in getting other help such as medical attention. Food is a system that is never just about the cooking and eating.
Made In Hackney on Instagram