How a church cafe in Hyde Park is saving 43,000 meals a year from going in the bin

Cooking up a treat in the Rainbow Junk-tion Cafe at All Hallow's Church, Hyde Park.
Cooking up a treat in the Rainbow Junk-tion Cafe at All Hallow's Church, Hyde Park.
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A community cafe in a pre-fab building attached to a church in the heart of Hyde Park doesn't seem to be the most obvious location for a food ethics revolution.

But it is happening and, from an unlikely source at All Hallow's Church, the cafe is saving literally tonnes and tonnes of food from ending up in landfill - and in turn providing a lifeline for those in Hyde Park who are living on the breadline.

Emily Carrigan putting together the menu of the day.

Emily Carrigan putting together the menu of the day.

There has been a cafe with the church for around 25 years but this cafe, the Rainbow Junk-tion Cafe, was founded by church warden Paul Magnall and opened in September 2014 as part of The Real Junk Food Project network.

It sourced food that was on its sell-by date and otherwise headed for the bin and used it to make dishes for the cafe. In the first year the cafe diverted 8.6 tonnes of food (equivalent to 144 standard wheelie bins) in preparing 3,662 meals for more than 700 people and saving an estimated 21 tonnes in CO2 and £25,000 plus in wasted food products.

There have been a lot of developments since then and last year the Rainbow-Junk-tion Cafe became an independent Pay-As-You-Feel community cafe.

In 2018 it served 43,000 plates of food to 21,000 customers and this year already, 11,000 plates have been served to 4,000 people.

The cafe at All Hallow's Church is a lifeline for the community.

The cafe at All Hallow's Church is a lifeline for the community.

The food is sourced from a warehouse at Pudsey where big supermarkets take food that has been taken off the shelves that day and pick ups are also made from the smaller supermarkets such as the Tesco Express and Sainsbury's Local stores.

The cafe menu is dependent on the ingredients but cooks up things like soups, salads, strews, traybakes and deserts like carrot cake and bread and butter pudding.

It costs around £5 per portion but very often the cafe will get around £2 back so relies on grants and paid for events - such as the Leeds Indie Food festival which the cafe will be part of later this month - to make up the difference.

This highlights the issues facing many members of the community in Hyde Park and from poverty to isolation.

Caleb Elliot from the Real Junk Food Project says: "It is a community cafe and it is a big deal. Some customers don't understand the waste food element of it but see it as a nice space to be and project to be part of. Pay as you feel makes it accessible to everyone but a lot of people can't afford to pay anything. It does have a great buzz about it when it is full and thriving. Everybody is very welcoming and you can sit next to anyone and have a warm and welcoming conversation."

Leeds Indie Food Festival

However, to make the books balance the cafe does need to branch out and Rainbow Junk-tion will be hosting five events throughout Leeds Indie Food fortnight, which it hopes will raise awareness of the issues surrounding food waste and the work that the cafe does in the community.

Over the festival fortnight, Rainbow Junk-tion cafe at All Hallows will host five fine dining events with chefs who will create meals using the ingredients that were deemed for landfill that day.

Jim and Dan from Eat Your Greens will do two events, as will Alex Economu a chef from London who trained under Jamie Oliver and the last event will be hosted by the volunteers who run the cafe and the kitchen at All Hallow's.

There will also be debates over dinner on each of the five nights, looking at food waste, food fads, poverty, ethics and food and people.

Mr Elliott added: "Last year we did a pay as you feel shop in the city centre which was pretty intense. We got a whole new demographic of people which was really fun and it raised awareness but one of the problems was logistics and it was in Leeds so the cafe was not highlighted.

"This time we want to do it here and Leeds Indie Food has a great reach that helps us to get to the people and places that we would not normally get to."