Those two words ‘Welcome Meal’ really draw me in, conjuring up a sense of warmth, intimacy and generosity, especially during the cold dark days of a Derbyshire winter.
Belper Welcome Meal delivers all that and more. Nestled in the market place at No. 28 Café, the monthly meal was set up by two local residents Kathy and Anne with the intention of providing food and company for people who are perhaps living alone or short of money. It’s open to all and no obligation to pay, there’s a donation box by the door for anyone who is able to contribute.
A boost for Belper
Anne is committed to improving the quality of life for all in Belper:
“There is hidden suffering in Belper; unemployment, loneliness and financial insecurity, we wanted to reach people and provide a place to eat and socialise.”
Kathy is a big believer in community, “the world is in such a state that the only way we’ll survive is to make communities close, friendly and respecting each other. We’ve drifted too far away from community,” she said.
With 20 volunteers, the informal gathering is well organised with friendly faces on arrival, ushering us in and guiding us to long trestle style tables featuring menus of homemade soups, bread and pudding. Much of the food is provided by local people, “the fruit for the crumble came from someone’s freezer”, “the veg is from the local allotment”. The food was prepared yesterday at the kitchen in another community venue Strutt’s by a smaller group of volunteers who enjoy coming together to support others.
Lotte, one of the volunteers talked honestly about a universal need in all of us: “Someone on the radio last week said we need three things in life; hope, something to do, and someone to love. “This is something to do, and I love it! Meeting interesting people and being with others keeps me going.”
Support from across the community
The monthly meal is well supported with donations from local sponsors such as Belper Town Council, Belper Open Gardens and Central England Co-op whilst Unite Community pay for the venue and Gummers Greengrocery, Field Lane Allotments and Glenn’s Eggs contribute with ingredients.
During the meal I watched many people walk in on their own and were then welcomed by strangers at the table. There were introductions going on all around and a lively vibe of curiosity and sharing of stories. I heard a range of topics covered; Covid, vaccines, cold weather, climate change, access to GPs, school activities and Christmas plans. Many of the conversations involved examples of Covid experiences, feeling poorly after jabs, the reality of isolating after a positive PCR test, not seeing family and not knowing when life might resume to some sort of normal. There was a strong sense of reassurance as people listened carefully to each other and shared similar accounts of life over the past weeks, months and years. I realised how important it was for people to be together and affirm their own and each other’s unease living through such uncertain times. “We are all part of a huge experiment,” reflected one of the volunteers who joined our discussion where we explored our hopes and fears for the future.
Reaching more people
Whilst the Welcome Meal is advertised on social media and through local networks, Anne and Cathy would like to reach more people who would benefit from the monthly gathering. “Reaching people is hard, we don’t have the capacity to go out and help people develop the confidence to step over the threshold. Our focus is to network the volunteers, find funds, prepare the food and create the setting at the café. We’d really love a buddy system to connect with and bring in more vulnerable residents. We do work with the homeless charity and local schools but more could be done.”
Loneliness is the theme of next year’s Mental Health Awareness Week in May. It is affecting more and more of us in the UK and has had a huge impact on our physical and mental health during the pandemic. The campaign highlights the importance of our connection to other people and our community as fundamental to protecting our mental health.
Not only do those enjoying the meal feel the benefit of company, friendship and warmth but so too do the volunteers. The monthly meal is a focal point for many and with further support could reach people in other communities too.
We’re keen to share this model with other Community Champions so if you would like to get a taste of the action, the next meal is due to take place on 28th January 2022. Please get in touch if you would like more details.
Thank you so much to Anne, Kathy and all the wonderful volunteers at the Belper Welcome Meal for your generous hospitality and spirit. We look forward to seeing you again soon.