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Posh nosh at the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation

May 22nd 2009

The Beef Kitchen for lucky football fans
SOSF has a new project which provides employment and pies. Not so long ago they were homeless ex-servicemen who had fallen on hard times after leaving the military. They had lost everything and had nowhere to turn. But now, three men who fought for their country have turned their lives around by capitalising on the phenomenal success of Chelsea Football Club. Bob Barrett, Emmett Burke and Tim Wilson are now doing a roaring trade selling gourmet baps at home games. The industrious trio are all residents of the Sir Oswald Stoll Foundation, which provides accommodation for vulnerable ex-service men and women next to Chelsea's Fulham Road ground. Capitalising on their close proximity to the premiership team, the boys decided to set up a beef bar on the edge of the estate to sell good quality grub to fans. Barrett, who masterminded the venture despite being diagnosed with cancer last year, explained: "Football fans are usually ripped off outside the ground, having to settle for greasy hamburgers and chips. We wanted to do something different. At The Beef Kitchen we sell the real deal - roast four rib of beef, roast loin of pork, salt beef, honey roast ham, smoked salmon and cream cheese - all in freshly baked baps. All our produce is from Britain or Ireland and is delivered fresh the day before a game. We get up on the morning of a match at 5.30am to get everything ready. Now we're selling 400 baps an hour." While Barrett is the brains behind the business, Tim Wilson - with 16 years' experience as an army chef - is at the stove, while Burke Emmett put up the capital. All three work in the kitchen on match days, with the help of willing volunteers. What makes the venture all the more unique is that when the men first came SOSF around two years ago, they had nothing. The Foundation's statistics speak volumes about their work. When Remembrance Day comes around, many buy poppies commemorating the dead, but most of the work and money is needed for the living. One in two ex-servicemen on the street is alcohol-dependent; one in three has attempted suicide; and one in five has serious mental illness. Few with a homeless background have ever gone back to living on the streets after being with SOSF. Barrett, who was in the Lifeguards, said: "I ended up here through a mixture of bad investments, business ideas going wrong, the loss of a 20-year marriage and home, and a drinking problem. When I came to SOSF, it gave me an opportunity to deal with my problems in a positive way. It gave me my confidence back and it's the same for the others. When you are out there on the streets, you don't realise that the service life could have done this to you. You lose that security and discipline and you don't know what to do with yourself. "Since we started The Beef Kitchen I have looked at Tim and Emmett and seen a straightening of the backbone. It just shows that tough times don't last, but tough people do." As it is only in its infancy, the men are not yet making any money from The Beef Kitchen, but it is only a matter of time. Most of the profits will be ploughed back into the SOSF to create opportunities for future residents, including the building of Westway Beacons, the charity's latest project to provide much-need accommodation. Burke, a former Royal Marine, who scrimped and saved for a year to invest most of the capital and buy the trailer, said: "We are out there for love at the moment, but this is for the long-term benefit of the Foundation. Usually, you would have to wait five years for a pitch outside Chelsea, but because we are on Foundation land, we can always be here. " A few years ago I would never have thought this was possible. I was on the streets and I'd been through the mill, but now I'm coming through on the other side. It's early days, but a number of other football clubs have expressed an interest in The Beef Kitchen. Barrett added: "We'll have to wait and see what happens. But it just goes to show that SOSF is a sanctuary and a launching pad. The Beef Kitchen belongs to the Foundation and always will - and if we can push the venture forward for the benefit of everyone, then we'll do it." If you're ex-service homeless and want to tell your story, Stuart Griffiths may be interested.

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