Chef Stephanie Moon is normally associated with whizzing up culinary masterpieces in the kitchen, but she has another passion as well as food.
This year Steph became patron of homeless charity Simon on the Street and pledged to everything she could to raise awareness and money for the charity.
And on Monday night she will be joined by around 40 fellow chefs, food writers and people from the foodie world in A Taste of Rough Sleeping in Leeds city centre.
“Homelessness isn’t a sexy subject,” says Steph, a farmer’s daughter from North Yorkshire.
“It is something a lot of us would rather not think about, but it is very real. There are a lot of stereotypes surrounding rough sleepers but we just don’t know why someone ends up on the streets.
“Simon on the Streets is doing an amazing job to help people get their lives back on track.”
Simon on the Streets was started in Leeds in 1999, expanding to Huddersfield and Bradford more recently. It receives not one penny of government funding.
By walking around city and town centres, along both main streets and forgotten corners, support workers identify rough sleepers.
Then the hard work begins. Each worker is trained in communication and behavioural techniques like neuro-linguistic programming and, as well as signposting rough sleepers to services they might need, they also act as their advocate.
Each of Simon on the Streets’ case workers will deal with between 12 and 15 individuals at any one time and across West Yorkshire the charity has in excess of 100 people on its radar.
Steph Moon first got involved with the charity when she met Simon on the Streets general manager Helen Beadnell.
“I met Helen about six years ago and we got talking about the charity and the fact that they did a soup run in Leeds,” explains Steph.
“They were looking for a kitchen and she asked if I could help. I was tutoring at Leeds City College and they decided to get involved as well.”
When Steph took part in the BBC’s Great British Menu she was asked about her charity work.
“They wanted to film me doing something in the community. I happened to mention that I did a soup run and they seemed very excited about that and filmed us as part of the series.”
Steph has also taken part in a number of the charity’s events, including sleeping rough on four occasions, one in February at minus 4C.
“It was freezing and I was lucky enough to have a sleeping bags and lots of layers,” she recalls. “I also knew it was for just one night, for some people it has become a way of life and they don’t know when and how it is going to end.
“It is incredible what a difference a piece of cardboard makes. When you see people sleeping rough they are often on a piece of cardboard or an old box, this is because it acts as insulation between you and the freezing floor.”
Sleeping rough is all a far cry from Steph’s life and this one of the reasons she agreed to be patron of Simon on the Streets when she was asked this year.
“I have a very comfortable life,” says Steph who has cooked for the likes of Michael Jackson, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill Clinton and George Bush to name but a few. “And I wanted to do something to help people less fortunate than me. I wanted to do something to help make a difference and I thought what can I do that involves the world I work in which is food.”
So Steph set about recruiting friends and colleagues in the food world to join her on a sponsored “rough sleep” in Leeds on Monday from 9.30pm to 5.30am.
“I just sent out an email to all my contacts. I really wasn’t sure that anyone would get involved and then my sister said she would, so I thought it might just be me and her.”
But this popular Yorkshire chef needn’t have worried, offers of help and support have poured in.
Staff from Rudding Park, where Steph was executive chef, are joining her, as well as from the Devonshire Arms, Bettys, Leeds City College as well as food writers such as Elaine Lemm and Gilly Robinson.
“One night is not going to change the plight of the homeless but by experiencing it, even if only for one night can help raise awareness and funds for the work of Simon on the Streets, then it is worth overcoming my fears for,” says Elaine.
“We work in the food industry and hospitality and it’s all early starts, late finish and very long hours but at the end of the day there is a warm bed and something to eat... imagine if the wet cardboard and cold pavement was the only reward,” says Gilly Robinson, from Malton Cookery School. More than 40 people said yes to Steph and have pledged to raise £200 each.
“Some will raise more and some will raise less, but we hope to raise around £8,000 which will go to Simon on the Streets,” she says.
Steph has promised to make everyone bacon butties at the end of their night on the streets
During the night the volunteers will be shown a film about how Simon on the Streets has helped homeless people turn their lives around, including Jamie Ross, who now works for Simon on the Streets.
“Every story is different,” says Jamie. “But the one thing about every one you see begging or sleeping rough is that they would rather be somewhere else, somewhere safe, somewhere warm. They might be in denial, they might be unable to think straight because of drink or drugs, but ultimately they are just people like you or I.”
What your donation will buy
£5 will cover the cost of hot drinks that one worker buys for clients in one day. People will often take a few minutes to stop and sit down with the offer of a hot drink and that can be the start of a long term relationship with the charity.
£10 will pay for the mentoring of a volunteer on one street outreach session.
£25 will pay for 30 minutes of a soup run. Simon on the Streets had been doing a soup run for two hours every Tuesday for over 10 years as a way of getting access to those they aim to support.
To sponsor Steph and friends visit www.justgiving.com/search?q=taste%20of%20sleeping%20rough