Do you fancy coming out to lunch with me? I know a nice place we could go – it’s only been open for a few days. We tried it out on Monday, and we’ll be back.
Corrina and Friends Community Café is no ordinary caff, though you might think it’s just another cheerful addition to the high street when you spot its bright blue facade and funky decor. Friendly staff will greet you as you walk in, and present you with a menu.
But what’s this? There are no prices mentioned. That’s because you’re invited to ‘pay as you feel’. You’ll slip the sum you decide to pay into an envelope, and nobody will be any the wiser about how much you think your meal was worth. Those staff who welcomed us were all volunteers, and so were the cooks in the kitchen. This is why, according to their website:
‘With no set prices, customers pay what they feel the meal is worth or what they can afford. At the end of each day the café will open its doors to Harrogate’s homeless and vulnerable – all produce left over at the end of the day will be given away to those in need. All profits will go back into helping Harrogate District’s homeless and vulnerable people.’
Corrina Young and her friends make a redoubtable team. They’ve persuaded businesses to give their surplus food, or food which is still fresh at the end of the day, but has reached its sell-by date, to the cafe. Individuals have donated dry goods, tinned goods, storage space, kitchen equipment and white goods. Local groups have organised whip-rounds and raffles. Others have donated paint and their skills as painters and decorators to make the place look clean, smart and inviting. Corrina herself raised money last month by getting people to sponsor her when she spent 72 hours in a skip outside her business premises (yes, she has a day-job as well)
Corrina seems to have endless energy and enthusiasm. Wanting to do something worthwhile, in December 2013, she and her family and friends provided a Christmas meal for the homeless and vulnerable. The idea developed and quickly became a weekly two-course meal. Yes, Harrogate, prosperous and successful spa town, contrary to appearances, knows all about poverty and homelessness.
By then, people were beginning to talk about The Real Junk Food Project in Leeds. Alarmed by increasing food waste, a chef, Adam Smith, developed a café in Armley that uses exclusively food destined for landfill: all that stuff that food retailers, especially supermarkets, are legally obliged to junk because it’s reached its sell by date, but not the end of its life. Corrina was inspired by his work. But her motivation is slightly different. She wants to help prevent food waste. But above all, she wants to help the homeless. Getting a good hot meal inside someone who hasn’t the means of cooking is only the first step. But a very important one.
So….. a café for the cash-poor homeless then, using where possible the food that’s had to be discarded by other shops. That’s not sustainable. But a café that attracts a wider paying public? That might just work. It brings the project to life. A paying public have a jolly good meal, see what the project’s achieving, pay what they feel for what they’ve just eaten, maybe make a donation. And at 5 o’clock, the café closes….and immediately re-opens its doors to the homeless and vulnerable.
These non-paying customers choose what to eat by looking at this board, covered in post-its.
People who’ve donated money write a ‘serving suggestion’ on their post-it, and the café users who come in at 5.00 chose a couple of these, and hand them over in lieu of payment. They’ll eat what’s listed on the post-it. Here’s what some people have written:
‘Soup and a toastie, Hannah x’
‘Coffee and a cake, George.’
‘Something hot and tasty. Love, Alison xx’
‘Eat what you fancy. Enjoy! Lee x’
We didn’t want a big meal, so Malcolm and I had home-made soup. Then we shared a cheese and ham toastie, and after that, we thought the cakes looked nice…… We’d had a great time, and Corrina made time to talk to us. She’s found 2 more supporters in us. She’s got 47 people begging to be considered as volunteer waiting staff. All the profits that the café makes will be ploughed back into helping the target community. The long-term aim is to resource, help and empower those people who are so vulnerable in today’s harsh economic and political climate.
Congratulations, Corrina and friends You’re an inspiration.