Small Charity Week: Tooting Community Kitchen

Our final blog for Small Charity Week is a contribution from Tooting Community Kitchen, a small volunteer-led organisation that aims to help alleviate poverty in South West London by supporting homeless people and those in need with food packs and home cooked food. They received a grant in Wave 5 of the London Community Response to help them continue to bring support to their guests.

Hear from Ollie Couillaud, one of the trustees at Tooting Community Kitchen, discuss how the pandemic has affected the organsation, the benefits and challenges of being volunteer-led and their plans for the future.

Tooting Community Kitchen (TCK) was created in November 2018 and serves food and brings support to homeless people and those in need. We started out with a couple of tables serving hot drinks and one or two hot dishes on Saturdays outside Tooting Market. Fast forward two and half years and we now have 6 tables, breads, pastries, hot dishes, cakes, biscuits all donated and cooked by our Rebel Bakers, Rebel Cooks and local restaurants. We also run a stall in Clapham.

We have many different guests coming to us. Many of which are homeless, elderly, on a low income, single parent families or those who were made redundant or lost their jobs. We never ask questions or judge, if someone comes to our stalls or foodbank, we will look after them. Our guests do not need a referral.

Covid-19 has made us reasses and change the way we do things at TCK. Pre-pandemic, we used to serve hot drinks alongside food at the stall. With Covid restrictions in place, we stopped serving hot drinks and all the food we serve has had to be individually packed and in single portion containers. We lost that social interaction as our guests cannot not hang around and mingle like they use to pre-pandemic.

The number of our guests has increased drastically since the start of the pandemic. To meet demand, we started a Wednesday food stall and opened a Friday morning foodbank. We now serve 300-350 guests every week and also look after a few families in need with food deliveries.

TCK is run solely on a volunteer basis - there are no paid members of staff. This can have its challenges as sometimes people find it hard to commit and now, a lot of us have gone back to full time work, making it more difficult and resulting in us constantly looking for new volunteers.

But every week we manage to be ready to serve our guests. We have a core group of 30-40 active volunteers who regularly give their time. The support we get from the Tooting community has been amazing and every week we get donations and people wanting to help and contribute. We are so lucky to have so many people involved – from Rebel cooks, Rebel Bakers, admin crew, gardeners, local restaurants and businesses, sponsors, donors and local people who put in so much effort, passion and hard work every week.

The long-term plan is to open a community centre in Tooting with a kitchen, restaurant, meeting rooms, office space, computer room where we can help our guests with managing their finances, getting back to work, befriending, mental health and learning new skills. We are actively looking for a premises, but the process, including reeceiving the funding for it, is complicated. Never the less, this is our dream at Tooting Community Kitchen.