Going the extra mile

Volunteering is about building bridges, connect, reach out and, sometimes quite literally, going the extra mile.


Refettorio Felix at St Cuthbert's (Credits: Simon Owens Red Photographic)

On April 9, a group of volunteers from the Refettorio Ambrosiano in Milan flew to London to visit the Refettorio Felix at St Cuthbert’s and help the local team of volunteers to run the daily lunch service. We asked Manuela, one of the historic volunteers of Refettorio Ambrosiano and organiser of the trip, to share her experience and tell us a bit more about the trip:

How many volunteers from Refettorio Ambrosiano travelled to London?

There were seven of us: Palmira, Salvatore, Chiara, Laura, Enrico, Ilenia and myself. We arrived at the Refettorio on Monday morning and everyone was thrilled to meet the staff and see the space. We were excited to experience a different reality!

What was your first impression of Refettorio Felix at St Cuthbert’s?

We were welcomed by Rosie and Zoe, the Refettorio’s Volunteer and Events Coordinator, who gave us a tour of the space and explained the different activities offered by St Cuthbert’s Centre. The kitchen is smaller than the one in Milan, but the dining area is stunning. We couldn’t stop taking pictures! There is so much light coming from the windows and the green of the walls stands out beautifully.

How is Refettorio Felix at St Cuthbert’s different from Refettorio Ambrosiano?

The two Refettorios have a lot in common, but they are also fundamentally different. We were surprised to learn that Refettorio Felix doesn’t only have a kitchen and a dining area; there are also showers, a cloakroom for the guests, and a small relax area where people can watch TV or read. On Mondays, St Cuthbert’s Centre organises art classes facilitated by a local teacher where guests can learn how to paint and draw using different techniques. Their works are displayed on one of the walls of the dining area – it’s like a small art gallery.


Tell us about the service…

At about 10.30am, when the guests started coming in, we were split into groups and given roles. Coincidentally, that day a few volunteers had called in sick, so we were happy to be there for the service and to put our experience to good use. Two people were assigned to the kitchen, helping the regular chef Nassim to prepare the menu for the day, one volunteer was put in charge of washing the dishes, and the other four helped in the dining area.

Despite the fact that some of us didn’t speak any English, everyone was really patient and we managed to communicate and interact with the guests without too many problems. At the end of the service, we had chance to speak with a group of Italian guests, who told us about their experience and the hardship of living on the street. For them, Refettorio Felix is not only a place to eat, it’s a relaxing environment where they can spend some time and ‘recharge their batteries’.

What was for lunch?

Nassim and her team of volunteers worked in the kitchen, turning the surplus ingredients delivered that morning by The Felix Project into a three-course meal. The menu included a tasty cauliflower soup, chicken curry with rice, and a chocolate and banana ice-cream.

What do you think about this experience?

We really enjoyed helping our friends in London with the service and seeing the Refettorio, it was a truly fantastic experience. At the end of the day, we gave Zoe one of the aprons of the Refettorio Ambrosiano and invited everyone to visit us in Milan.

Then, who knows, perhaps Refettorio Paris could be our next stop!