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One of a kind

December 01 2022
Emdad (first on right) with the One Third Soup Kitchen in east London.  © Emdad Rahman Emdad (first on right) with the One Third Soup Kitchen in east London. © Emdad Rahman

An in-depth focus on east London’s the Kind Counter, a soup kitchen for homeless people and people struggling with the cost of living crisis. Report by Emdad Rahman

The Kind Counter is a pop-up soup kitchen based in east London. The community support project believes in collaboration as the best way to provide excellent service and is run entirely by volunteers from the Stratford-based One Third Soup Kitchen, which closed in 2020. 

Helpers were apprehensive about volunteering as they were worried about their health and exposure to Covid. It was during the very early days when there was heightened fear and a lot of misinformation being spread, which resulted in high anxiety and fear among people. 

Two volunteers decided to carry on as they felt strongly about having an ongoing presence out on the streets when people were struggling like never before. 

They were correct. Despite the Everyone In scheme housing many homeless people and rough sleepers, it didn’t take away from the fact that many of these people had serious issues in their lives that wouldn’t be resolved through having a room to lock themselves away in. Others were left out on the streets.

So, despite a national and global lockdown, it was not uncommon to see many homeless friends out on the streets. Some were less visible as they were aware of lockdown rules and didn’t fancy facing repercussions despite being able to explain why they were out. Others were just too focused on their own problems to worry about the complicated rules.

The Kind Counter continued to operate throughout lockdown as a pop-up soup kitchen and relied greatly on donations of food and essentials to distribute. Many organisations approached the team to offer hot/cold food and items for sharing with homeless friends.

As a result of the needs of the patrons who visited and based on homeless visitor feedback a decision was made to make use of Bookbike London – a free book sharing social enterprise project which involves cycling to deliver books to individuals and establishments, including homeless hostels, care homes and schools. During the Covid-19 pandemic, Bookbike London expanded its remit and operations to include food parcels, clothes and medicine collection, along with the usual books for home visit drop-offs. The soup kitchen expanded its services to hostels using Bookbike in order to be able to serve hard-to-reach homeless friends, or those who were unable to venture out and had requested support. 

The success of the Kind Counter has been consistency. It is a very small and under-resourced soup kitchen set up, but draws strength from using shared resources and accessing available help from others.

I once had an exchange with a lady who I had noticed for two weeks at Stratford. She had situated herself behind a pillar and her furtive glances caught my attention. I decided to get to the bottom of the matter and approached her to have a chat. Mary explained that she had noticed the “delicious food” being shared and really wanted to take some but felt too shy to do so. She also explained that she wasn’t homeless and had convinced herself that it would be unfair to take food. Whilst we chatted, I learnt that both she and her husband worked full time but she had her hours reduced by more than 50%, whilst he had suffered back trouble and had been off work as a cabbie for over six months. Things had slowly started to get on top of the family. Mary told me that for three weeks she and her husband had not been able to afford a hot meal and had kept going on buttered sandwiches. 

I was astonished and told Mary that she didn’t have to join the queue if she felt self-conscious and all she had to do was get my attention and I would walk up to her with her food parcels. My interaction with Mary changed my perspective completely and we changed our criteria at the Kind Counter to include people who weren’t homeless. Many may not be living rough on the streets but they need support as the level of hardship they are facing due to the cost of living crisis is simply off the scale. 

  • The Kind Counter can be found operating two days a week in east London, outside East End Cycles every Tuesday lunchtime (12:30pm – 1:30pm) and opposite Westfield shopping mall and the Stratford Centre every Saturday.  
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