Comment: Pop ups bring communities closer

Masham Town Hall hosts pop-up restaurant evenings.
Masham Town Hall hosts pop-up restaurant evenings.
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RURAL ACTION Yorkshire is part way through its ‘52 (Almost) Painless Things Your Community Can Do’ campaign to encourage active countryside communities. Here, the charity’s chief officer Leah Swain explains how ‘pop-ups’ are a good example of what can be achieved.

Rural areas are often known for their imaginative and unique events when it comes to raising funds that keep local services open. This is no truer than in Masham, North Yorkshire, where volunteers are running ‘pop-up restaurants’ that cater to the locals.

They are as their name implies – a restaurant-style evening that caters for up to 60 people, usually with a themed cuisine, and open up overnight in spaces not often used for such purposes. In Masham, this is the town hall, which is turned into a temporary restaurant complete with waiters and winery.

Masham Town Hall resides in a small community of 1,200 people who have so far been treated to three of these popular events, which are a joint effort between paid caterers and volunteers.

Two of these were held around the theme of ‘fine dining’ while the third was a French-special in aid of the Tour de France celebrations last summer. The latter raised significant funds towards hiring and running costs, as well as licensing and publicity overheads.

Through the sale of tickets to the restaurants, it is relatively easy to make costs back from running the pop-ups, and also have some left over for other activities that will benefit the wider community.

According to Nick Reed, administrator at Masham Town Hall, guests are charged £20-25 a head for a three-course meal including coffee. Wine is extra, but the Town Hall team has purchased it at a discounted rate from a nearby wine retailer. Alternatively, guests can bring their own bottle as the hall has all the relevant alcohol licenses in place. In the Masham model it is wine sales that generate the bulk of the profit.

Food is mostly pre-prepared outside of the hall and then warmed up in the kitchen, with some meals made to order, so anyone looking to replicate their success would need a building with a fairly large kitchen area, or at least enough space to operate a base from on the night. Catering is planned to offer vegetarian as well as gluten-free options, thus an experienced caterer is often required.

Volunteers serve the starters, and the mains and desserts are served buffet-style.

‘52 Things’ is keen to turn the spotlight on volunteers and showcase the significant contributions they make every day to their communities and neighbours. As the campaign’s name implies however, no event or activity is completely without its challenges or hard work and planning, and the viability of such events hinge on the availability of volunteers.

But what has become clear through the campaign so far and through talking to volunteers is that action inspires action. Even though time and dedication is needed, projects are successful in bringing people together, creating a spark, raising funds and reinforcing community spirit.

Rural Action Yorkshire can lend a helping hand to new and fledgling projects, in order to support volunteers to get them off the ground. In some cases we have funding or access to funding which can assist with this process. To find out more call 0845 313 0270.