The statistics are striking; over 12 months, community café Resurrected Bites at St Mark’s Church on Leeds Road took 9,000kg of food destined for landfill and created meals for 5,000 people.
There’s more. This people project led to a saving of more than 17,000kg of CO2 which is about the same amount of greenhouse gas produced by the average household’s electricity use over four years.
“I’m a scientist, I like my facts,” states Michelle Hayes, who, with the support of 40 volunteers, runs Resurrected Bites and whose idea it was to set up the community café after hearing about a similar food project in Leeds.
Sitting in a quiet office at the church, she quickly warms to the theme of caring for the environment, pointing out a third of all food produced worldwide is wasted before it reaches the plate.
“There’s a huge environmental aspect to food wastage and as a church and a congregation we need to try and do something to address it locally,” she says with conviction, adding that St Mark’s itself is environmentally-aware, having, for example, installed solar panels.
While the café addresses the impact of people on the environment, at its heart it also addresses the impact of modern life on people and in particular the ever-present issues of loneliness and isolation.
The café opens every Wednesday and the third Saturday of each month. Anyone can drop by and have a meal and afterwards pay what they feel they would like to.
The range of customers is wide as Michelle notes: “We have mums with babies, dads with babies. We have our regulars and they are old and young, a real range of demographics and plenty of inter-generational mixing. We focus on creating opportunities for people to feel welcome.”
She continues: “We have big tables so everyone sits together and chats and we can also provide someone to chat to if it’s wanted. The café is an opportunity to come for a meal for those people who normally wouldn’t come.”
As for those meals, the 40-strong team of volunteers at the café never know what foods they are going to get but nevertheless produce an impressive array of dishes.
The menu features breakfasts, soups, main courses and puddings along with pastries and hot and cold drinks. Michelle jokes: “It’s a bit like Ready Steady Cook.”
The army of volunteers picks up food, prepares, cooks and serves the meals, clears the tables and washes up. And the list of suppliers who give or have given foodstuffs to Resurrected Bites is impressive and includes: Waitrose, Bettys and Taylors, Heck, Sainsbury’s, The Co-op, Cold Bath Deli, Roots and Fruits, Regal’s Fruiterers, Costa, Greggs, the Secret Bakery, Cook, distributors Bookers and Aldi.
Michelle acknowledges that Resurrected Bites is hard work – an understatement if ever there was one – but she knows it is hugely worthwhile; the support it receives in Harrogate including some financial backing is evidence of that.
There is more at work here. This pragmatic project that addresses real issues springs from something deeply personal for Michelle; namely her Christian beliefs and the requirement to fulfil God’s call.
Once a research scientist and clinical trials project manager, Michelle now has an “outreach and mission” role for St Mark’s where her full title is Kingdom Life Director.
The role requires her to be aware of the social challenges in people’s lives and to take steps to address them as part of what she describes as “Jesus’ family of servants on a mission”.
This mission is ongoing and Michelle has big plans for Resurrected Bites in the future and for other projects which will address loneliness and isolation in the community.
Her first wish is for the café to open more frequently but there is great demand for the space from other Church activities at St Mark’s. As a consequence, a bigger item on the wish list is a dedicated building for the café.
Further opportunities for growth may come as Resurrected Bites will be doing the catering for a business charity awards event this year.
The community café theme also features with a fix-it café where those who know how to mend things can show those who don’t and a computer café where youngsters will be able to become a bit more computer savvy.
But these are goals for the future. Michelle currently has a more pressing task that will be hugely beneficial to the wellbeing of the community – a large quantity of bananas and pineapples awaits to be made into ice cream for the Resurrected Bites pudding menu.
Resurrected Bites website: smch.org.uk/project/resurrectedbites