Behind the scenes at the Community Kitchen

It’s been a year since we opened the kitchen and time to reflect and look back over our achievements. The kitchen has quickly become a space with its own personality and character, and it needs a lot of looking after.

When people come to the kitchen, we want them to relax and enjoy themselves.  It’s always a joy when people come for the first time and say ‘wow it’s so nice in here’ or ‘this place is so organised’ but there is a lot behind the scenes that goes into making it clean, safe and welcoming, as well as a brilliant place for learning.

Recently we’ve had many ‘remember the first time we….’ conversations – the first time we did a class with the new dishwasher, our first volunteer induction, the first time we hosted a birthday party, our first hire, community class, as well as the first time the oven broke**, the fire alarm went off, someone left a live crab in our fridge, the first time (and not the only time at all) someone’s lovely feedback made us cry. For me a big one was when we got the washing machine so ‘the first’ became ‘I remember the LAST time I had to take all the laundry home to my house’ which was beyond welcome.

** thanks to a lovely local engineer this was fixed in 24 hours!

Taking care of the kitchen almost falls into three areas – we take care of things, we take care of people and we take care of business.

Taking care of people

‘Who knew washing up for 5 hours could be so rewarding!’

We are blessed with our team of volunteers and we simply could not open the door in the morning without them. Our team tend to fall into two categories which they have named PD (pre dishwasher) and AD (after dishwasher). We still have an amazing representation of PDs which is mind-blowing considering how hard their job was back in those days.

We manage a team of over 50 volunteers who support our community and commercial classes. Allocating volunteers to classes is an algorithm which we have no computer programme for, but we get by and they keep on coming back. Our team are diverse, each bringing their own skills and personality and preferences for washing up, polishing hobs, knife sharpening and showing kindness and support to people who come to our classes. We value them immensely.

Taking care of things

‘It should have a label on it’

storage cupboard shelvesOur storeroom is a magical mosaic of kit that’s been donated to us – from the metal racking to our fridge and freezer down to our ice bucket. It’s place of great pride for us (as well as a nice place to have a think) so we keep it tidy and most of all labelled!

Our labelled shelves and containers have been the content of more than a couple of Instagram posts with appropriate heart emojis and rightly so. Getting our storage sorted has enabled us to get bulk dry good deliveries and fresh produce from a local farm.

We have learnt a lot of lessons along the way and a lot about turmeric. We now have 3 sets of wooden spoons all labelled – ‘baking spoons’, ‘spicy spoons’ and ‘general’ and it’s pure joy when a chef or cook comes in and knows to get out the ‘spicy spoons’ for their class. We learnt that white chopping boards don’t stay white, and to hide the extra tubes of tomato puree so they don’t all get opened at once!  We also learnt how to replace the blue roll in the blue roll holders, how to change the filters in the extraction fans, the best way to descale something, that ‘anti-stain’ tablecloths are a thing, and the learning continues.

Taking care of business

We only sit around eating cake some of the time’.

To make all of this work a lot of time is spent sitting in front of a computer managing our booking calendar, doing volunteer rotas, responding to enquiries, an epic amount of social media and comms managed by some of our team, recording, recording, recording (you never know when you will need it) – numbers of  enquiries, volunteer hours, numbers of course participants, collating case studies, doing evaluation, planning course programmes, budgeting.

Our office is a hive of what can often feel like slightly frantic/ giddy activity, but we all work hard and are completely invested in this project. We do sometimes get a bit of a ‘woah, what have we done’ moment but more recently we seem to be getting more ‘I think it might be working quite well’ moments.

I can remember someone who runs a community kitchen in London telling me that the first year they felt like they were ‘constantly sitting at a 3-legged table’ which I can empathise with. One year on I feel like we have added the extra leg but there is still a wobble to it which has become an endearing part of the kitchen’s personality.

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