‘Waste’ feeding Corrina’s hunger to help homeless

Britain throws away tons of food while others struggle to eat. Nicky Solloway speaks to a Harrogate grandmother who is creating the town’s first ‘Pay as You Feel’ café and helping the area’s homeless

Corrina Young preparing food at St George's Community Hall, Harrogate.
Corrina Young preparing food at St George's Community Hall, Harrogate.

It’s a modern contradiction that while we throw away 15 million tonnes of food a year in the UK, more people than ever are turning to food banks to find enough to eat.

A woman from Harrogate, who already runs a soup kitchen in the city, is now planning to do something about it. Corrina Young is opening a cafe which will serve food destined for landfill.

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Corrina and Friends will be a ‘Pay As You Feel Cafe’, which will cut the amount of food going to waste, while also helping vulnerable and homeless people in Harrogate.

“When you mention waste food people start to panic,” says Corrina. “They think it’s out of date but that isn’t the case.”

Food distribution and retail in the UK generates 4.3 million tonnes of food waste each year. Mislabeling and mistakes in the supply chain mean much of this food never reaches the plate. A staggering 40 per cent of vegetables are also discarded before they even leave the farm because they are the wrong size or shape for supermarket shelves.

Corrina’s cafe will use surplus food from the local supply chain. She has been offered food from greengrocers, butchers, bakers and supermarkets in Harrogate. Customers will be asked to pay as much as they can afford for their meal and any left-over food will be given away free to the homeless after 5pm. Homelessness is an issue that Corrina, a 50-year-old grandmother, holds close to her heart. Eight years ago she lost her home after her husband, Neil, fell ill.

“My partner had cancer and we were both self-employed. He had to stop work and was on treatment for nearly 12 months and when you’re used to two incomes, it was hard.”

He had a landscape gardening business and Corrina ran a coffee shop in Otley, but when Neil was diagnosed with testicular and stomach cancer, the couple found it hard to make ends meet.

“We fell behind on the mortgage payments and bills and the problem is knowing where to go for help.”

The couple lost their house, but were lucky to have family that could help them out.

“We got close to becoming homeless and nearly lost everything, so I know how easy it is and it can happen to anybody, either through redundancy, ill-health, or through relationship break-up. A lot of people who come to the project haven’t got family to turn to.”

They managed to keep the coffee shop, which Neil now runs, and Corrina helps her daughter at the family beauty salon.

“The cancer changes your outlook on everything. Things that you lose are nothing really when you think, he’s still here and surviving.”

Neil volunteers for the project and also cooks for the Sunday soup kitchen at St George’s Community Hall in Harrogate, which Corrina started a year ago.

“When you say you do a soup kitchen, people are shocked,” says Corrina. “They say, what in Harrogate? People think because it’s an affluent area we don’t have any people who are homeless.”

In fact a report by Harrogate Homeless Project just over a year ago revealed the scale of hidden homelessness in the city with nearly 150 referrals to its No Second Night Out scheme. This national initiative provides an emergency service and works with multiple agencies to find a bed for the night along with ongoing support.

“From sofa surfers to rough sleepers we have quite a few people that are very vulnerable and people that just can’t afford to eat at the end of the month,” says Corrina. “It’s all ages. We have families who go to the soup kitchen.”

Corrina provides a two-course meal for between 30 to 60 people every Sunday.

“I’ve always helped the homeless around Christmas, whether it’s food parcels or donating money and the last two Christmases we’ve done a Christmas meal for 100. After the last one I decided that I wanted to do something on a more regular basis.”

With the money from the cafe, Corrina will hold the soup kitchen on another evening. She also hopes to raise more funds to provide emergency food parcels.

There are three food banks in the city operated by the Trussell Trust, but Corrina points out that food banks can only be accessed three times in six months and strict regulations apply. “You have to be referred to it, so it’s not instant.”

She is hoping that the cafe will become a resource centre for the homeless and vulnerable across the district. As well as offering advice and referrals for drugs or alcohol addiction, the cafe may look at offering apprentice schemes to help people back into work. In the future they could provide cookery classes and community events.

“It’s about pulling the community together and creating a meeting space. We have loads of ideas.”

The cafe, which will open in Mayfield Grove, Harrogate, on May 1, will be run entirely by volunteers. So far more than 25 volunteers, along with eight chefs and cooks have come forward. Plumbers, painters, decorators, a bookkeeper and an accountant are all offering their services for free. Some of the volunteers, such as the head chef, Nick Yankee, have experienced homelessness themselves and want to give something back.

Deano’s Graze and Grill has agreed to cook a casserole once a week.

“We are trying to eradicate as much waste as possible. Obviously there’s no set menu because nine times out of ten it’s what food we’ll have been donated.”