Marfleet FoodCycle Project, Hull University

FoodCycle: Thursday Night Community In East Hull

Saying NO to food waste, hunger and loneliness
July 14, 2023

It’s difficult not to be impressed as you approach Hull from the west – and the M62/A63. Firstly you dip under that magnificent bridge, before skirting the vast expanse of the Humber estuary on your right, which on a still, sunny evening in July – is mesmerising.

Heading into the city centre, the construction work that’s underway all around you is clearly creating a new Hull Version 2:0. With another iconic bridge overhead, the Marina, Old Town and the brand-spanking Fruit Market district all concentrate the mind that this part of East Yorkshire – this place ‘on the edge’ – doesn’t live up to the billing it sometimes gets as being one of the top 50 worst places to live in the UK.

Continuing east, towards the ferry port and ultimately Spurn Point (if you keep going), Hedon Road is the ‘working bit’ of the city – with the docks and industry. Massive wind turbine sails and park-homes on lorries seem to be everywhere you look.

Turn left after the prison and residential East Hull spreads out ahead. You quickly find yourself in Marfleet, previously listed as one of the most deprived wards in the UK, here too there’s regeneration happening. A development of new three-story townhouses look onto an avenue of shops – and while just as in lots of places – there are deep-rooted socio-economic challenges to address, Marfleet is one community doing just that.

In excess of £1.3m was recently secured to establish the Into University Hull East Centre, based in the Freedom Centre on the neighbourhood’s Preston Road. The University of Hull is working in partnership with the charity Into University, together with the University of York and other stakeholders – including local schools and the Children’s University to create greater opportunities for pupils from deprived backgrounds to reach the university of their choice.

And while a long-term strategy – and a realistic pathway for increased academic opportunity and success are obviously fundamental to building sustainable and engaged communities, it is also a fact that when any of us are feeling hungry, isolated or vulnerable – we are less likely to focus on long-term aspirations – but try our best to exist on a one-day-at-a-time basis. One organisation is tackling these issues head-on in East Hull – and across the UK – and it’s because of their work that I’m headed to Marfleet Community Centre on a Thursday tea-time.

FoodCycle Food Ingredients. Banana. Asparagus. Pudding

FoodCycle are a national charity that's stated aim is to make food poverty, loneliness and food waste a thing of the past for every community.

By creating welcoming spaces for people from all walks of life to meet, eat and have conversations, this innovative organisation is concerned with supporting people’s health and mental wellbeing. At the same time they’re working in partnership with many of the UK’s largest supermarkets to tackle the ‘elephant in the room’ that is food waste.

Through their network of community organised efforts, this week alone 73 unique venues across the UK will host meals. (On our patch there are 3 in Leeds, 7 across Greater Manchester, 3 in Liverpool, 5 in Newcastle and 1 in Hartlepool.)

Just as impressive is the fact that the FoodCycle teams are keeping almost 210 tonnes of food from going to waste annually. In excess of 5450 volunteers donated around 91000 hours of time in 2022 – and as the movement grows, there is an urgent need for more potential volunteers to join the team.

The Charity really is connecting communities, supporting mental health, wellbeing, and reducing loneliness, nourishing the hungry, promoting sustainability and inspiring change at a grass-roots level – and when I joined the Hull crew as a volunteer last night, I found out they’re doing it in exactly the right way.

The statistics are stark: 17.7% of households in the UK in January 2023 were food insecure (ate less or went a day without eating because they couldn't access or afford food), up from 8.8% in January 2022. The ever-rising cost of living is undoubtedly the key driver of increasing household food insecurity. Approximately 1 in 5 of the UK population were living in poverty in 20/21 – that’s 13.4 million people.

And in 2022, 49.63% of adults (that’s 25.99 million people) in the UK reported feeling lonely occasionally, sometimes, often or always. If you’re 16-24 years old, are female, are single or widowed, living with a limiting mental health condition, are renting, have lower neighbourhood belonging, or have lower local social trust – you’re more likely to experience loneliness.

This is the sort of peer-reviewed data that might lead many of us to shake our heads and decide the situation is hopeless. If that’s you – then you need to spend a few hours with Carolyn, Molly, Michael, Jeanette, Jeani and Pauline in East Hull:

When I arrive, I’m immediately asked: “Are you here to volunteer – or are you with the magazine?” The answer is both – so it’s on with blue hairnet and an apron, that instantly makes me feel like I’m part of the team.

Although Carolyn insists she’s just a volunteer like everyone else, I already know that she’s actually one of the Cooking Project Leaders, but her flattened-hierarchy approach is an instant winner and as we set to work, it quickly becomes clear she knows her way around a big knife and a green chopping board.

When the team of volunteers arrive at 5pm on a Thursday, they have no idea what they are going to cook. That’s determined by the mountain of ingredients that has been collected from local supermarkets – and delivered to the centre earlier in the day.

The Marfleet Team

It’s all a bit like ‘Ready Steady Cook’ as super-fast-thinking Carolyn scans the food and out of nowhere suggests a Carrot and Honey Soup starter, followed by Quorn Goulash with Roast Potatoes and Asparagus – then a Pineapple and Banana sponge for pud. While I love flattened hierarchy – I’m also a fan of decisive command decisions – and I think the rest of us in the kitchen are relieved with the culinary vision of our leader-who-isn’t.

Molly and Michael set to work on the soup and Carolyn assembles the goulash. I chop a pan full of spuds. Molly tells me she’s been volunteering with FoodCycle since arriving in the city last autumn. Home is Rochdale, but she’s studying with Hull York Medical School and working within the NHS. She’s on the cusp of becoming a fully qualified Clinical Psychologist.

Michael is another recent arrival to East Yorkshire – and his sunny disposition makes working with him in the kitchen a pleasure.

While monitoring my potato abilities, Carolyn discloses that in her ‘day job’ she teaches all things catering to foundation level students at a local F.E. College – and is a qualified chef. In spite of having a knee injury, she moves around the kitchen like you’d expect an expert to.

Carolyn confirms that staffing the community meals is an ongoing challenge. At Marfleet a team of four is ideal – but not always possible. In addition to the national efforts to attract new volunteers, social media is the main platform used locally to alert possible new team-mates to the immense sense of achievement and wellbeing they’d experience from getting involved.

While the prep progresses the Community Centre begins to fill with chat, as seventeen guests (many of them regulars) arrive for what might well be their favourite night of the week.

With my potatoes successfully on the boil, I move on to the fresh pineapple and banana base for dessert. I learn that the centre of a pineapple is actually the best bit – but we still remove it because some people aren’t fans. Much of tonight’s produce is from Waitrose – and they have to be applauded for their support. While I understand that retailers are (rightly) governed by legislation around food safety, the fruit, veg and bread we have tonight is still in an excellent condition.

Jeanette and Jeani – both in their posh frocks – are tonight’s 'front-of-house’ duo – and as the delicious soup is served, they’re back and forth like two of the most accomplished Maître d's you’d meet anywhere. Jeanette tells me: “I like banter. You’ll get used to it.” She does – and I do. This pink-haired powerhouse is also a Community Champion with Morrisons and is absolutely keyed-in to what is happening in her local community.

For three individuals who don’t work together very often (plus this random bloke who’s just turned up), the kitchen dynamic is fantastic – and as the meals start being served – the standard is somewhere above very impressive. Personally I think the pan-fried asparagus just adds that finishing touch and a confirmation of quality. Whoever was responsible for that particular element should be very proud.

Once the pud is out, we set-to cleaning and predictably it’s Carolyn that leads from the front. If you’re the burnt-on base of an aluminium pan – you’re no match for this Withernsea-based wild swimmer.

I’m left moved, overwhelmed and any other number of verbs you might like to use to describe what I’ve been a (very small) part of tonight. We hear lots about The Community Paradigm – and how applying Behavioural Science insights to deliver creative strategies for health, environment, business, crime, education and skills – is how we improve communities. But in Marfleet, just as in Levenshulme, Bootle and Seacroft – it’s local people being empowered to ‘do it for themselves’, with just the right amount of external support from organisations like FoodCycle – and partners like Waitrose, that’s making positive and sustainable change.

For more info on FoodCycle - and to volunteer PLEASE CLICK HERE