We talk cake with Jo Verney who helps run one of Whitstable’s most socially conscious projects at the Umbrella Cafe…
The Umbrella Café has been open for five years in Oxford Street’s Umbrella Centre. For some it is a place to enjoy a meal or a coffee. For others, it is shelter from the storm. We talk to Jo, CEO of the cafe and a former nurse about the joys and challenges of running an incorporated social enterprise during a tumultuous year.
Why does Whitstable, one of the most affluent areas of Kent need a venue to support food poverty? Jo replies:
‘There are some areas in Whitstable which have pockets of deprivation.
“ The issue is one of hidden poverty. . .]
Yes, Whitstable High Street is affluent but there are quite of lot of families and older people facing poverty and isolation. Older people can be particularly isolated…we are supporting the community with both issues.’
A tumultuous year
We do not need to be reminded but 2020 has shaped up to be one of the most devastating years of recent memory. With thousands of people losing their jobs to Covid 19 there are reports of increasing food poverty. Has the pandemic exacerbated food insecurity? Jo says:
‘It has definitely made certain hard to reach groups of people more visible. But there is now greater connectivity between community groups. People were already experiencing poverty prior to the pandemic but people who were previously working have now lost their jobs. The percentage of those in this new group now make up approximately 15-20 per cent.’
It’s a troubling figure and you might be wondering what you can do to help during such drastic times. Jo suggests:
‘People can volunteer their time by working in the Umbrella Café or in the pantry, they can help pick up surplus food from supermarkets, they can raise awareness on social media, or they can help with revenue and funding.’ It needn’t be too much effort because Jo says:
“ Just buying tea and cakes in the café can help. . .]
This sounds good to us!
Bringing people together
Jo elaborates further about her efforts to supporting community projects:
‘I lived in London previously and I loved this idea of bring people together, I noticed a gap in Whitstable and always enjoyed getting involved with community projects…I leapt at the chance to do something like this in Whitstable.’
And although Whitstable is not experiencing the larger scale of poverty in other Kent towns she notes:
‘The existence of food banks says a lot…this need has increased over the last six months. Food banks are a sign of fractures.’
This year you may have heard of the campaign passionately helmed by 23-year-old footballer Marcus Rashford to assist with free meals for children during lockdown.
Is it unfortunate that it needed a football player to highlight the issues of hungry school children?
‘It says a lot of the current situation, it took someone who grew up in extreme poverty and a huge media campaign,’ she notes.
Exciting plans for the future
Future plans for the Umbrella Cafe include budgeting and recipe skills. How difficult is this to implement? Jo says:
‘It is one of the most difficult aspects to consider, we need to walk before we can run…we want to work on how to cook from cheaper ingredients, we are at the early planning stages.’ She adds: ‘We plan to deliver workshops,’ before noting that ‘one of our big passions is tackling food waste.’
And she adds of the complicated and emotive issues of food insecurity and poverty in 21st century Britain:
‘The families we are supporting often do not enough money to plan a budget. It is tricky to shop frequently and you need really good cooking skills.’
“ Whatever we can do to help we do…we teach people to be a bit more creative. . .]
The Umbrella Cafe is supplied with surplus food that would otherwise go to waste and one donor is Marks & Spencer in Canterbury. Jo adds:
‘Our main partner is Fareshare Kent, we’ve partnered with them for over two years now and we pay for that, although hugely cheaper than market rate. We also have a current partnership with Canterbury Food Bank who are helping us with stock. M&S (Whitstable and Canterbury) is via the charity Neighbourly, another partnership. We also pick up from Aldi via them.’
The war on waste is turning and we have Jo and her colleagues to thank for this. For a place to volunteer or just to eat cake click here.
…a word from Jo
‘The work we do with the Social Pantry is in collaboration with Food Friends’, a charity founded and coordinated by Anna Mantell. They are also Whitstable based and co-ordinate single deliveries of meals cooked within the community to those who are isolated, have complex needs or struggling with food insecurity. We work together on the scaled-up needs of bigger households and families.
The work we do at the Umbrella Cafe is only achievable because we are supported by Whitstable Umbrella Centre (a charity).
The Social Pantry project open Wednesday & Thursday 10am – 1pm.
We are able to take self-referrals; email or call 07518 065 801 for more information.