Gary Pargeter is the latest to be named a Brighton & Hove Food Partnership Food Hero, for his work with Lunch Positive.
Every Friday Lunch Positive offers a healthy and enjoyable meal in a safe and supportive space for all people living with and affected by HIV. Research shows that shared meals play a hugely important role in addressing food poverty, as well as reducing social isolation – and Lunch Positive perfectly embodies that vision.
Gary set up Lunch Positive 10 years ago with a group of friends. It now reaches out to everyone with HIV and makes a special effort to include those with complex needs, including mental health issues, other health issues if their HIV is not easily managed, drug or alcohol issues, or those who are simply lonely or isolated. The project is run by peer volunteers – that is, people who themselves have experience of HIV.
“We are the only open gathering of the HIV community on a regular basis,” explains Gary, who worked in catering before he became unwell himself as a result of HIV.
“For some of our clients, coming to us once a week is the only regular access they have to a cooked meal. And for some people it is their only social contact, especially if they have low mood or depression.
“We help people with their emotional health and wellbeing, with access to good nutrition, with breaking a cycle of social isolation, and we act as a gateway to other services. We have advisors and health professionals coming in. We also provide digital access and support, and food to take home for people who are in crisis.”
He adds: “Many of those we work with don’t engage with other services at all, sometimes because they are fearful that seeking help will mean disclosing their HIV status. For example, they will come to us in a crisis rather than a food bank because they are worried about what they might need to disclose in the referral process.”
Gary says that Lunch Positive has always understood that the very best nutrition is required to support people both in their day-to-day life and to support their health condition.
“We run ‘cook and eat’ workshop sessions so that people can share their cooking skills with each other, along with nutritional learning. People love it. We’ve really noticed that people are becoming more aware of their nutritional needs and that nutrition is increasingly part of the conversation. Longer term, we want to have a ‘go-to’ nutritional webpage with the best information for people with HIV.”
Lunch Positive has been working with the Food Partnership and other organisations on refreshing the food strategy for Brighton and Hove, particularly in the bid to become a gold Sustainable Food City. The project always cooks with donated food, mainly from FareShare.
“Avoiding food waste is really important to the project,” says Gary. “Our menus are entirely planned to maximise what we have. Even our scraps get sent out to volunteers’ allotments for composting – and then they sometimes bring allotment food in for us.”
The city-wide Food Poverty Action Plan, which has at its heart a vision of ‘The City that Cooks and Eats Together’, has shown the value of organisations like Lunch Positive. Gary says: “I don’t think the value of shared meals was ever clearly demonstrated before. Now that is something understood when I talk to funders or supporters. And it has helped to raise the profile of shared meals more generally.”
Two years ago, Lunch Positive received three years’ funding from Brighton & Hove City Council. The project also generates money through fundraising, and from community catering and venue hire, and it is looking at the possibility of running a community café to raise funds. There is always uncertainty about future funding, says Gary.
“As funding becomes more competitive and funders demand better evaluation, I worry that it is harder to measure and articulate the impact of improving people’s lives through food and through being together, and everything else that provides – without infringing on the experience.
“Also, we are a charity that has a fundamental interest in doing things collaboratively, and when we’re feeling the pressure, and our partners are also feeling the pressure, collaboration becomes much harder.”
Gary was a volunteer with Lunch Positive for its first eight years, and now he manages the project. “I love the job,” he says. “I love being with people and cooking food. I have to be involved in every aspect of the project – that’s the nature of catering.
“I absolutely love working with our volunteers too, and seeing how volunteering impacts on their confidence and self-esteem and helps to build wider support networks. This award is recognition for them too. And I love being with the people who use the service. I know how much it means to them. You realise you are answering a call and responding, doing something that is really important.”
He adds: “I feel very privileged being named a Food Hero. When you love something you do, when someone recognises it it’s a shock as you love what you do anyway. It’s the ‘healthy icing on the cake’!”
Our Food Hero awards celebrate the amazing people in our city who go above and beyond the call of duty to improve our food system and support others to access healthy, sustainable food. Gary won a meal out for two kindly donated by zero waste pioneers Silo.
- Find out more about the peer support offered by Lunch Positive in the project’s new video.