Established 2005 Registered Charity No. 1110656

Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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A recipe for success

September 08 2010
We look at Birmingham-based ChangeKitchen

ChangeKitchen is a new catering enterprise that genuinely aims to make a difference. It is a social enterprise that has been set up in partnership with Birmingham based homelessness charity SIFA Fireside, offering paid work placements to the adults who use their services, many of whom are homeless, sleeping rough or dependent on alcohol.

ChangeKitchen officially launched at the end of June and offers catering to businesses and organisations in the West Midlands for events, meetings and other functions. The food on offer is healthy, vegetarian and gluten-free. Feedback, so far, has been very positive.

Birgit Kehrer, already director of her own successful business BSustained and now co-founder of ChangeKitchen, is dedicated and enthusiastic to see this project develop, thrive and achieve positive outcomes for many SIFA Fireside service users.

Colin (pictured), who will be working on placement with ChangeKitchen for the next 6 months, said: "I like all kinds of food, I've always enjoyed cooking, but it's great to get some proper training, especially as vegetarian food is a whole different cuisine... I used to be homeless and was addicted to alcohol. I reached the point where I knew if I didn't get help I would end up in a wooden box! I came here about 4 years ago and it definitely feels like I'm getting somewhere now; I have a place to call home again and a proper job".

Roman has also been successful in gaining a paid placement with ChangeKitchen. When Roman first came to Birmingham he got a job as a kitchen porter, but after that job finished he lost his accommodation and then as he had not been working solidly for 12 months found he couldn't get benefit which meant he was dependent on emergency accommodation;

"For the past three months I have been sleeping at the Salvation Army. This is not guaranteed as they only have five emergency beds available. I don't know until the end of each day if I will have a bed for the night. With the help of my key worker, I should be able to get a place now... I have a passion for food and joined the cooking classes at SIFA Fireside who then introduced me to a position with ChangeKitchen".

Paid employment placements will be available every six months to service users who have successfully completed SIFA Fireside's develop- ment and accredited training. The biggest challenge will be making the leap from such a supportive environment to the wider catering industry. Colin said "I'd like to stay - they know me here". However Kehrer is confident that they can overcome this: "During their placement service users are supported towards applying for jobs in mainstream employment."

ChangeKitchen already has a lot of interest from local businesses and has supplied freshly prepared food to a number of events. The Heart of Birmingham Teaching Primary Care Trust has placed orders for several new health centres due to open in the city centre.

Sarah Crawley, Chief Executive Officer, of the Institute of Social Enterprise, was impressed after she sampled some of the food from the menu of ChangeKitchen. Crawley told The Pavement: "I have been looking for this kind of food for years." Birgit Kehrer will be co-developing food ideas with Crawley to tailor make menus specifically for corporate events.

Kehrer said: "We have good connections locally and are hoping to continue business with our new clients and build relationships in the wider community. In October this year we will be looking to recruit service users in the locality."

Roman said: "I hope ChangeKitchen is a success and I'm very happy I am a part of it. I am really grateful to Birgit and SIFA Fireside to have this opportunity to be involved."

• For more on this enterprise go online to: