“After 18 months of handing out takeaways to a growing number of guests in need, being able to welcome people back into the warm hub of our dining hall comes with a real sense of relief!” – this is the spirit of the Refettorio team, which after months spent helping people who needed it most can now finally invite guests to come in and to sit around the same table.
We met Beyrom, Support Worker & Refettorio Digital Manager, who gave us an overview of how needs have changed in recent times and how communities need us, now more than ever.
- After a long period of takeaway service, Refettorio Felix has finally reopened its door to the community and welcomed those in need to join its indoor service. How have guests been affected by the social distancing measures? Has it changed their attitude? Are they more scared and distant, or are they seeking community spirit and social contact?
Reopening was a difficult balance to get right, as we wanted to make sure we could accommodate as many people as possible whilst ensuring it was safe to do so. We have kept many covid safety procedures in place including asking guests to wear masks and sanitise their hands on entry.
Some people have made their own decision to wait until they are comfortable to return to the Refettorio, but in general we have seen a large number of our former guests happy and willing to come back after such a long time away. The mood is similar to how it always has been with guests discussing today’s menu or the latest news stories, which is such a welcome change after 18 months of quiet inside our dining room.
- How do you think this situation has changed our relationship with one another? Do you see any positive aspects or lessons that we can learn from this situation?Lockdown was difficult for many people in the UK as we were shut away from our wider support networks. This was of course driven by the need to protect each other and stop the spread of the virus, however this came at a cost to many people’s emotional wellbeing. This experience has made me recognise the importance of tackling social isolation for those at risk from it, including many of our guests. In a city as busy as London it can be hard to believe that loneliness is extremely common – particularly amongst older people – but we must remind ourselves that small acts of kindness can make a big difference to others.We continued to offer support to our guests throughout the pandemic through phone consultations with our Mental Health Coordinator as well as weekly activity sessions on Zoom. More recently we have partnered with a national elderly care charity to offer a range of in-person activities including creative writing workshops, painting groups, music therapy sessions and a weekly lunch club.
- Now more than ever we must take care of the well-being of people but also of the planet. How does Refettorio Felix implement best practices to help create a healthier and more sustainable food system and a better future for People and the Planet?At Refettorio Felix, we consider sustainability in everything we do. Aside from repurposing surplus food in all of our meals, we attempt to minimise waste by reimagining leftovers on subsequent days or offering takeaways for our guests. Any food waste produced is collected for biodigestion which means all waste is either reused or recycled. Over the pandemic we switched to serving takeaways which of course involved disposable packaging. However, we use only compostable or biodegradable packaging to reduce the impact of this necessary change.
We hope that by being proudly sustainable and open about what we do, we can encourage other people to behave similarly and reduce the amount of waste they produce.
- What are, in your opinion, some of the ways in which chefs in their kitchens can promote this message? And what are the ones that each of us in everyday life can do to help?Social media is a powerful tool and over the years we have generated a community of like-minded chefs who have visited the kitchen. By sharing tips, recipes and knowledge this community has grown and an even more diverse knowledge pool created.
We have seen the impact of this in the broad range of volunteers coming through the Refettorio including chefs, local residents and businesses sending their staff to learn more about sustainable practices and waste reduction.
- How and with what actions local companies commit to carrying out Refettorio’s mission and message?
We are incredibly fortunate to be supported by many different companies and charities both locally and further afield. A range of businesses send their staff to volunteer and experience the way guests’ lives are transformed through their time at the Refettorio which they often find to be a radically different experience to their jobs, but one which impacts their future behaviour. Our close links with local organisations also means we can help our guests access the support they need should they be experiencing a crisis of housing, finances, mental health or anything else. We work extensively with Glassdoor (a homeless charity), local government and others to ensure that our guests receive appropriate support in a timely manner to avoid worsening their situation.
- Do you have a special memory with a guest, a volunteer, or a chef that you would like to share with us?
I remember fondly many of the chefs who have volunteered their time at the Refettorio, both for sharing their expertise and the kindness they showed while serving our guests. In particular, Brett Graham (formerly of The Ledbury) was a dedicated supporter and would come monthly and prepare some inspirational dishes, even being known to supply his own hand-reared muntjac. He also volunteered to be the Head Chef for our first ‘Season’s Surplus’ fundraiser, putting together an incredible array of talent to cook a menu including trout ceviche. This gesture and a passionate speech helped to raise over £10,000 for the Refettorio which is money that will go back into serving our guests.