How Severn Trent funded cafe is helping feed families in cost of living crisis 

28th September 2023

It’s the community café helping families, the elderly and people struggling to survive the crippling cost of living crisis – by providing a warm welcome and free hot meals every day.

Something quite extraordinary has been happening at the new eatery in Redditch, Worcestershire, since it opened in March, thanks to a £21,341 award from Coventry-based Severn Trent’s Community Fund.

Many people, young and old, have so far benefited from the delicious and nutritious free meals on offer, with the caring local community showing how it can come together to help those most in need.

Town supermarkets provide some of the fresh food ingredients for the café - run by the Old Needle Works Foundation charity - including quality meat and fruit and veg that would otherwise have been destined for the bin.

The grant has provided the funding for a Wellbeing Co-ordinator, who helps run the café and warm hub alongside a dedicated team of staff and volunteers.

The Old Needle Works Foundation opened at the famous Britten House site some seven years ago, offering mental health and welfare support for vulnerable individuals and families. The charity also signposts training and employment opportunities at the centre, where partnership teams like MIND and Citizen Advice are also based.

The café and warm hub is open Monday to Friday every week, thanks to its small but dedicated team and volunteers including the new Wellbeing Co-ordinator.

Old Needle Works Foundation chief executive Elaine Grant spoke movingly about the impact of the café - with all sections of the community.

The mum-of-two said: “The café has been a huge success, welcoming many people through the doors since it opened - from children to people in their 80s and 90s.  There’s nothing quite like this in the area.

“We get a lot of families dropping in. Many parents tell us that when the money gets short they can struggle to buy food and fresh fruit and veg.

“All our food is nutritious and freshly cooked, we use no processed food. So parents and children can come along and enjoy a hot meal and can also take home a bag of fruit or veg.”

The spark for the café was the ongoing cost of living crisis, which Elaine said in the group’s experience was affecting all areas of society.

She said: “People now being affected by food poverty are not necessarily just people on benefits, it’s far more diverse than that. Some are working parents who are just struggling with the increasing costs of food.

“We came up with the idea for the café after noticing the impact of the cost of living crisis in the community on mental health. We wanted to support people practicably by providing a safe, warm place where they could receive a hot meal and drink, or help with the services they might need.

“Throughout the week we get donations from supermarkets through the Fairshare organisation.

“The food that we receive, including veg and meat, is cooked in our kitchens and we provide a menu every day for people to choose from, including vegetarian options. We also have cold meals, including packed lunches for people or parents to take away.”

Elaine added: “We wanted to help people with mental health support, including a focus on families, and we have lots of groups that work with us in the hub, including Citizens Advice and MIND.”

Part of the previous work of the charity has involved offering parenting support, including training and advice, which had also benefitted from an earlier Severn Trent Community Fund grant of £18,000.

As well as helping run the café, the new Wellbeing Co-ordinator also arranges group social events like a Book Club and Writing Groups.

The café funding is part of a £10m programme of grants being handed out by Severn Trent – and Elaine was emphatic about its impact.  

She said: “The café would not have happened without the Severn Trent grant, we needed the Wellbeing Co-ordinator to help make it happen. This funding meant we could create a warm and welcoming café space and have it open throughout the week.

“Applying for the grant was a nice process to navigate and you get a lot of help with it from the Community Fund team.”

Elaine also paid tribute to the dedicated staff and volunteers who keep the café and charity going.

“It’s because of the kindness and compassionate staff and volunteers that we can do what we do,” she said. “There’s a lot of stuff that goes on out of hours.”

And she added: “Some people arrive here in distress, that can be very hard, especially when children are involved. We work with adults in all sorts of complex situations and they tell us we have been a lifeline.

“We get a massive sense of purpose from what we do – we are all very passionate about it.”