Soul Kitchen Chester is a “community kitchen” that happens every Saturday 4-8pm at the Brook st subway/roundabout. It was launched by a group of friends over the summer in response to the PSPO proposals and aims to ” respond to the rising issue of homelessness and food poverty in the current political climate”. I caught up with two of the founding members, Natalie and Claire at the recent protest organised by Mark Thomas:

“Food not fines”

“We went out for a Sunday lunch and all started talking about the PSPO and a week after Soul Kitchen was born . Now we’re 12 weeks in and its grown. We now have a couple of local businesses helping us .. Terringtons of Chester, Chester Health store. We try and do wholesome food instead of just tinned, so they do get a decent meal” Donations have also been received from Mickle Trafford farmer Huw Rowlands. Nikki Davies of Chester Health told me that “if I’ve got any food stock that’s getting close to or just past its best before date I arrange for them to collect it. Id rather it go to a good use than reduce it or throw it away when there are people who can make use if it… I can’t do a lot but its my bit”

As well as providing food for those  in need, Claire told me : “It’s about community, about building a safe space where people feel they can come and be welcome. People are helping them, not because they’re paid, not because God tells them to, not because its their job.. it’s because people want to be friends and to be part of a community, and respond with love and care.”

Roundabout community

“There is some cracking work going on, some amazing projects, with the churches and the charities we’ve met. They do fantastic things, but even collectively we’re not meeting their needs. People need houses, they need homes, they need support with the issues that got them on the streets in the first place, they need people to listen to them, to hear their stories and help them move on. We need to sit down and look at really carefully and clearly about how we solve this problem, none of these people want to sleep on the streets, they just want a leg up so they can feel safe.”

Natalie says that anything from 20-40 people attend each week “when all the hostel people come down we have a bigger event. Some weeks we’ll turn up there will be 20 people waiting for us, sometimes more.” She says there are no safety concerns: “the guys police themselves, so if there are any issues between them they will get a mutual person to sort it”

Claire:   “We are really respectful of the space.” Soul Kitchen were briefly located underneath the canal bridge off city road.  ” We loved that venue”  However opposition from local residents forced a change in location ..”even though” she says  “we were quiet, we were respectful, we cleaned up after ourselves. “Its a really positive, really peaceful space, we are going to try to make it the best possible space we can

“We are taking it through winter…. we are looking for ways to keep warm as the weather turns. We are in this for the long-term, we can’t be fair weather supporters”

Natalie says that Soul Kitchen are slowly building up trust .” Now we have that level of trust, if we let them down, we just become another service that has let them down.. It took us 6 weeks for then to stop calling us staff, now they call us all by our names. Also one of them cleans up, one of them carries things, I had an accident with my wrist and I couldn’t carry anything and I didn’t touch anything, they just made me sit on a bench for 4 hours and talk to them”

Hannah Golightly volunteering with Soul Kitchen
Cestrian Hannah Golightly who has been working with Soul Kitchen over the summer explained the appeal of the community kitchen: ” I really like being part of a grassroots charity to help the homeless. I spent all of 2010 homeless in London and I wouldn’t wish the stress of homelessness on anyone. I love cooking nutritious vegetarian food such as quiche and soda bread. I love getting the chance to give back to others going through the same thing I went through. It is very satisfying. I also feel like helping with Soul Kitchen Chester has brought out the best in me and my friends. Each week I list all the ingredients I need to cook with and me and my friends chip in the ingredients together and then I cook it. Friends and family have donated tents and sleeping bags to the rough sleepers. Volunteering with them has boosted my self-confidence and made me feel like I can contribute to society.”
Twitter follower @Paul_Offline also commented, “I heard about Soul Kitchen through Twitter and was instantly drawn to it – I’ve done charity work abroad before but the idea of helping people in our fantastic city was a big draw. We sometimes forget about those on our own doorstep in favour of more “attractive” opportunities abroad. I met up with the guys on  for the first time and instantly knew we’d get on – everyone is so friendly, there’s no hierarchy or anything like that – it’s a community collective with one aim”
With thanks to Soul Kitchen and all contributors. Pics : @Soul_Chester

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