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June 01 2024
Volunteers at FoodCycle with Emdad (far right) © Emdad Rahman Volunteers at FoodCycle with Emdad (far right) © Emdad Rahman

FoodCycle nourish communities with food and conversation. Emdad Rahman visited one of its London services to find out more

Those who are at the forefront of homeless outreach will identify with me when I describe the levels of creativity involved when it comes to ensuring continuity and consistency of services.

Dedicated frontliners will often piggyback to stretch resources, swap ideas and make ends meet in pursuit of continuity of services and kind gestures.
I recently read up on Dr Helen Kingston from Frome, a pioneering GP who recognised the impact loneliness was having on the physical health of her patients and set up the Compassionate Frome project in 2013 as a result.

In partnership with Frome Medical Practice and Health Connections Mendip, Dr Kingston created a service directory of more than 400 local care providers and volunteers to help people reconnect with their community. Services included helping with shopping and dog-walking, exercise classes and choir practice.

Hoping to find similar platforms to support local homeless friends, it wasn’t long before I came across FoodCycle. At FoodCycle, the vision is to make food poverty, loneliness and food waste a thing of the past for every community.

With community dining week in, week out, volunteers cook fresh lunches to feed the hungry. They give company to the lonely in our communities, providing delicious meals and great conversation, using food which would otherwise go to waste.

The idea here is to connect communities, reducing loneliness and food poverty, working with volunteers and surplus food to help people.

This is all done through creating welcoming spaces for people from all walks of life to meet, eat and have conversations. It’s excellent support for people’s health and mental wellbeing.

By cooking with surplus ingredients, FoodCycle promotes healthy, sustainable attitudes towards food and its impact on the environment, helping people to learn more about healthy eating.

As a result, we have been introducing homeless friends as well as struggling families to delicious, hot, home-cooked vegetarian food.
I have known Joe for a decade and he has been living on and off the streets. The first step for me was to reassure him that he wouldn’t be judged and nobody would look down on him.

After years of being made to feel invisible, verbally abused, hit, spat on, beaten and robbed, it isn’t difficult to see why people like Joe severely struggle for confidence in social situations.

Joe is not stereotypical and his appearance as a homeless man living on the streets of London isn’t based on our prejudices and misconceptions.
If you saw him, you’d never guess he often sleeps rough, as he takes great pride in washing, grooming and changing his clothes. His items of choice for kind people who ask what he would like are sandwiches, toiletries, boxer shorts and hygiene products.

“Washing, grooming and changing clothes has a really positive impact on my mental health and I try my best to avoid the dishevelled look. It sometimes works against me too. People can be so cruel and I get barbed comments about not looking ‘homeless enough’ as I present well generally.
“But the feeling of self-worth and personal pride is more important for me. I do actually have bad teeth. It can be a giveaway but I rarely offer a toothy grin so the secret is safe.”

Joe had to be coaxed into visiting FoodCycle at Barking Al Madinah Mosque, where he has joined a few homeless people each week. They don’t know each other and the volunteers don’t ask questions. This helps with building confidence and tackling any genuine feelings of insecurity.

The experience is even more beneficial as it is now a platform for homeless guests to relax, savour delicious food and most importantly, start to take tentative steps to build friendships by fostering trust through socialising.