Back in June 2018, I found myself having to take a U-turn on the way to work back home. Since that day, I haven’t been back to ‘work’ as I knew it. After a hard month of being a single parent to my then 4 month old daughter, Lara and my 2 year old son, Cody, I became skint. Universal Credit was coming into play and I waited around 6 weeks for the first payment. I had sold everything I could to make ends meet, but it wasn’t enough. The plan was to be at home for around 3 months with my children and then go back to work as normal but this was far from the actual reality of it.
Back to Basics
By the time August came around, I was absolutely brassic and was getting food from food banks. I felt like I had failed my kids, I felt judged by my friends and family, I felt like I was a bum.
After getting my first food bank donation and emptying it all over my kitchen side, I laughed at the food that was there. I had no idea what half of the things were! Chickpeas? Lentils? Mixed beans? I thought baked beans were the only beans? Chopped tomatoes… ok… I have heard of them! But what do they go with? This is so much harder than putting a pizza in for 20 minutes on 180*C.
The Video That Started it All
So after a video call to my Mom, who found it utterly hilarious that Cody was happily playing with the tins, I managed to make a meal.
It was funny, but it was stressful too. So, for some reason I thought it would be funny to video it and post it online of me and Cody cooking. My friends on my facebook thought it was a laugh so I made one of us doing some Playdough, that didn’t go down as well. So we tried cooking another meal, and again people thought it was fun!
In November of that year, we relocated to South Devon from Birmingham. The children and I had no plan, so we ended up in a homeless shelter. It wasn’t ideal, but it was safe. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the place for YouTube videos. Because we couldn’t cook in this place, I spent the dark nights working on a plan to open up a restaurant where the people who were dining would actually cook their own food. I was spiralling into depression, but staying productive on my £30 laptop.
But, let’s fast forward a few months, we have our new flat, Cody was in nursery and we were getting support where it was needed!
So, we started doing a few videos, asking our followers what their favourite food was and we would then cook it LIVE on Facebook!! It was a recipe for disaster but that’s what people loved. The absolute risk of anything bad happening, not knowing what we were cooking with both kids.. it was pretty stressful!
We had to stop again after only a few weeks of getting into it because of family court reasons. This lasted until September of 2019! But in the meantime I had spent the entire spring and most of the summer building our shed into a toddler sized, fully fledged kitchen!
Feeding The Homeless
We jumped back on it and we were making BIG meals, so big that we offered excess food to the homeless of Torbay. We had SO many people complimenting us for this which was the first realisation that our area really needed help, not just with food, but with community spirit around it too.
BBC spotlight agreed and and in October 2019, they came out to film us in our shed!! It was amazing!!
After Christmas we were still going, cooking cottage pies, lasagnes, pizzas, cakes.. anything that you guys wanted to see, we did.
February came. I set up as a Community Interest Company because I had the momentum and passion to get a venue, a small shop, and turn it into a self cooking restaurant. Ok, restaurant is a big word for a shop I could only fit 5 people in but I just couldn’t risk getting a bigger shop.
I was going off my plans that I made when I was in the homeless shelter. I couldn’t actually believe that I was doing it!! But a spanner got thrown in the works when I realised I needed a huge extractor fan and being a listed building, this was going to cost me thousands. I was JUST making it through each month and the shop landlord was going to give me my first month free as I had no money, all i had was an idea. I had to pull the plug because of costs.
A month later, Lockdown 2020. I felt so relieved that I had pulled the plug before this!
So, we were working really closely with The Thrive Project in Paignton since we started back up again. They came across an issue .. nobody was allowed to drop donations of sandwiches and pasta in to them because of lockdown. But they still had homeless and vulnerable clients to feed. All they were getting given was raw meat from shops just before it went out of date.
We had started a cooking show, every day at 11.00 cooking things that other kids had chosen for us. We called this feature, ‘Let’s Go Cook’. BBC Spotlight saw this and featured us again and we also popped onto BBC Radio Devon too! But Cody and Lara started to get a bit annoyed with each other as they both want to do everything when we are cooking. So we pulled the plug on this and at the same time, The Thrive Project asked us if we wanted to cook their raw food and other donations on the show. I said the show was going to come to a natural end as the kids just play up for the cameras and they just want to play these days. But I completely agreed to cook all the donated food!
The Big Milestone
A couple of months into lockdown we reached 1000 meals for the homeless in Paignton. What a milestone! It was amazing!! I was cooking 3 times a week, 30 meals at a time with all donated food. It was the most caring community thing I had ever been a part of.
Devon Live thought so too. So they featured us online and in the newspaper. Which was seen by Russell Howard’s team who then came out and filmed us in the shed for one last time. Which then was seen by so many people who donated to our GoFundMe, taking it to over £27,000!
So with this, the plans came back out to build the self cooking restaurant. But this time, with a whole lot more knowledge of community. So, to make it more accessible for the community, it had to be a bus.