Community Hot Lunch brings fresh hope in Cheltenham

Published: Tuesday November 21, 2023

Ryan, a chef from Wiggly Charity, stands at a table with hot food and bread

On 13 November, a community café in Cheltenham began a new venture, opening once a week to offer hot food and a warm, welcoming space to the vulnerable and lonely.

The Community Hot Lunch is the result of efforts and contributions by a number of key local partners – with the School House Café offering the space and kitchens, Good Food Cheltenham providing locally produced food, and Wiggly Charity, which teaches cooking skills, donating a chef to cook the meals.

Sarah Avery, who set up the Community Hot Lunch, runs her own company, Be a Good Neighbour, offering support to local charities and organising activities for vulnerable families and children. The concept for setting up the weekly ‘pay-as-you-can’ café has been a long-time ambition of hers.

Sarah, a qualified social worker, says, “It’s so exciting to see the project finally up and running after years of planning. People’s lives are incredibly complicated and just trying to create safe spaces can make a world of difference to them. Once people find that love, and see that no one is judging them, it gives them hope. Everybody needs help – and everybody can be of help, either giving the help or receiving it. My role is to bring the two together.”

The initiative has been coordinated with Fresh Hope, an umbrella charity which funds community projects and is supported by the Diocese of Gloucester’s LIFE Development Fund. Fresh Hope projects include the School House Café in St Paul’s Cheltenham and The Pantry, a low-cost service providing staple food items.

“It’s about reaching people who are in real need; to feed them some hot food and give them some time and love.”

Sarah says, “You don’t know where the provision of a hot meal leads for someone, but it offers them a starting point. People often fear being judged by others so to hear words of encouragement and experience a bit of compassion can really help them feel supported.

“We had someone come to the Hot Lunch who was struggling with addiction and apologising thinking they’d have to sit away from everyone. This person told me they were scared to come and was so surprised at the warm welcome they received.”

Men and women sat at a long table eating a meal and chattingThrough their connections, Sarah and the School House Café team are able to offer further support to people who come to the Community Hot Lunch, if they want it.

“Someone who came this week told us that they used to enjoy gardening. They gave us their number, so we can look into perhaps connecting them up with the local growing projects that are around. We can also connect them with The Pantry, so they can access affordable food items.”

Sarah, who is a member of GodFirst Church in Cheltenham, says the aim of the café was to open up for the needs of the people but also to help them with their individual needs.

“I love the whole family support element of my work, creating places for people to just open up and be loved for who they are. A gentleman who had seen the Hot Lunch advertised in a local newsletter came and appreciated the company. To have a friendly conversation over a meal which isn’t going to cost you something fulfils a lot of needs. It’s stories like this that encourage me and remind me why I wanted to set this up.”

Customers to the Community Hot Lunch can buy a token at the till, for any amount they can afford, and use that to buy the meal. If they have no money they can simply ask for ‘Tom’ at the till and will be given a token to buy their meal.

The Community Hot Lunch is open Mondays, 12.30pm to 1.30pm at the School House Café, St Paul’s Road, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, GL50 4EZ

If you would like to make a donation to the Community Hot Meal, use this link: Donate – Fresh Hope Please write ‘Community Lunch’ in the comments on your donation so that your money is allocated to this project.


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