Free Lunches for All
Hospitality and Welcome for a cross-section of the community in a small market town.
Havant URC have been offering “Free Lunches for All” every Saturday morning between 11am and 2pm every Saturday . Starting with 5 people, three years ago, we now serve up to 90 meals each week.
The Church has a central position, and halls which have been refurbished to a high standard with a Foyer Space which is visible and accessible from the street. The Church promotes these premises as the Havant Meeting Place (see Logo)
Where did the idea come from? How did it start?
It came from conversations at church coffee mornings, and an individual’s enthusiasm to make it work. The church had already identified a need for places for people to meet and talk, and make friendships, particularly among those who were not likely to make use of the many coffee shops in the town.
It soon became clear that there was a need for free or very cheap food for those who were struggling in the community.
Who is it for?
It is for everybody, and one of its strengths is that there is a welcoming and safe environment for those who come because they are homeless, because their budgets are tight, or their benefits are stopped. There are also, however, people who come to take a break from their shopping, to meet friends, or to have lunch in a place which is friendly and welcoming to all comers; individuals, families of all ages, and people who come to listen and to make friends. It goes some way to alleviating the difficulties faced by those on the fringes of society, while helping them to feel accepted and acknowledged as belonging to the community. Those who live alone, who are comfortable in retirement, and those who have learning difficulties are able to feel part of a supportive and respectful gathering.
What preparation did you do?
Preparation was minimal, and many things were in place. The kitchen already had a five-star rating for health and hygiene; several people within the church had food safety qualifications, and some had professional experience in catering.
Who have been your partners in this project?
Our partners have been acquired as we went along. We work in close collaboration with the local community church who run an independent food bank and a debt counselling service. Together we are part of a larger consortium of statutory, voluntary and religious agencies who have the needs of those who are homeless or in danger of homelessness in the local area. With the aid of funding from local and central government provision is now being made for rough sleepers, whose numbers are on the increase. There are also a number of “sofa-surfers” in the area, and there has been some success in re-housing some of them. The ‘drop-in’ for this project takes place on neighbouring church premises.
How did the Congregation get on board?
At first it was a very low-key affair, with a request to Church meeting to try to use a Saturday slot for mid-day refreshments. When it became clear that there was a link to the increasing number of people needing support, particularly with “sofa- surfers” – people who moved from one friend’s home to another, with the occasional night ‘sleeping rough’ – it becameclear to some that there was a need that we could, in part, meet. People made assumptions about what was happening, and there was lively discussion at Church Meeting, which resulted in the church “owning” the event as a part of their outreach, though with some dissention. Individuals were encouraged to “come along and see for themselves”.
What were the key steps to get to get from idea to day 1 and what legislation did you have to deal with?
As indicated above, the legal requirements were met, and the set-up was organized by someone with experience of similar events, so that training, qualifications and equipment were already in place.
IMPACT ON COMMUNITY
What impact has this project had on the life of the Community?
There has been a growing awareness within the life of the Town that homelessness is on the increase, and that there are issued, particularly about the provision of social housing, which is divided in the Borough between the local Borough Housing Department, three major Housing Associations and Portsmouth City Council, who still own much of the housing stock on the Leigh Park estate. A year into the project, the Borough revived the local Community Network Meeting, who soon identified Homelessness as a key issue, and encouraged the Rough Sleepers Worker (funded by the Government through the local Boroughs) to extend the work into Havant Borough from the existing work in the Boroughs of Fareham and Gosport.
A Working Party was set up, based around the independent food bank and debt counselling service run by the Community Church, who are our close neighbours. The Church have been active members of this, from its inception.
How has this changed the relationship between the church and the community.
Though the Church is not a major player in the Working Party, awareness of the Church and its activities has definitely increased, and we are seen to be active in the community, and worth consulting, in a way that was not the case before, on social matters. Much of the Churches’ activity within the Town and the Borough is channeled through the Churches Together Group, in which the Church takes a major role.
IMPACT ON THE CHURCH
How does the project connect with your faith and mission?
When the church halls were refurbished, the decision was made to rename the complex as the “HAVANT MEETING PLACE”, with the intention of making it a resource for people who were on their own, and needing activities and companionship. This new activity was very much in line with that, but has taken the fellowship into a new and unintended direction, which is now being explored.
How has the life of the church been transformed because of this project?
It would be claiming too much to say that the life of the church has been transformed by the project, but it has served to open up the congregation to consider local issues and be more anchored in the life of the Town Centre. The church is a gathered church and has a tradition of involvement in overseas mission, particularly through Christian Aid and Commitment for Life, but much of the mission and outreach work has traditionally been done by witness in the workplace, by people who are now for the most part retired.