Social Enterprise? I’m hungry for more.
In the current economic climate, too often people have to choose heat or eat or even whether to pay the rent. And, at the same time as people are going hungry, restaurants and shops are sending top quality food to landfill. One solution has been for people to use food banks.
Adam Smith, founder of the Real Junk Food Project and Pay As You Feel café in Armley, has found another way. His main dream is to tackle hunger in our city through the generosity of local people and companies. They are taking a stand against unnecessary waste and proving that good food doesn’t need to cost the earth. I talked to Adam Smith about why his Pay As You Feel café is so much more than a soup kitchen. Read more
So how does a Pay As You Feel Café work?
Waste food from restaurants and supermarkets is intercepted, stopped from ending up in landfill, and turned into healthy, homely food and put on the café’s menu. The menu changes every day. The food on offer is seasonal and depends on what is donated. People have a meal in the cafe and then pay what they feel it is worth, and that’s it.
The Pay As You Feel café opened in December 2013, are you surprised at the positive reaction from the local community?
No, I’m not surprised at all. I had faith in the concept and knew people would support it. The cafe brings people from all walks of life together – locals to students.
What made you do this?
In Australia I saw food being wasted on an astronomical level perfectly good food was being ploughed into landfill while thousands of people were going hungry all over the country. I got the idea from a Buddhist Monk in Australia who set up the company ‘Lentil as Anything’. They took waste food from supermarkets and fed people in convents. I saw how successful it was and I knew it would work in Leeds. I knew something needed to change.
Does charity begin at home?
Yes, when I was in Australia a guy told me that ‘You can’t change the world unless you change your home town first’ and that quote stuck with me. It’s right; you can’t go round trying to change everybody else or trying to change views and perceptions when your home town is having its own problems. So I came back to Leeds and realised the city needs food interception more than I could have ever imagined.
What made you set up the café in Armley?
We got in touch with Leeds charities and restaurants asking if they had a space we could use. We had one reply telling us about a place in Armley with a kitchen, and it happened to be a community centre that was selling tea and coffees, making £20 a week. It wasn’t being used to its full social ability. We now use the space and are taking up to £1000 a week in donations all because this concept works.
Do you think the café brings this community closer together?
Without a doubt, there are so many people that wouldn’t usually have access to this kind of food, in this kind of environment. We introduce them to new foods, the other day we had rabbit curry on the menu and the customers loved it. They can also sit and share stories with people that they usually wouldn’t come into contact with.
Are you happy for people to come in and pay just a penny, after all you are a business?
That’s the advantage of being a social enterprise. People can’t abuse us. We never put emphasis on money. We obtain funding to pay wages and have an army of volunteers. There have been days when we have made £30 from 30 people but the next day we’ve made £220 from 20 people so it tends to average itself out.
Everything in this building was donated, and at the moment, because of the financial agreement with the building owners, we don’t have any overheads. We are currently fundraising to buy the building so we can keep it that way.
We will always try and run on a very low budget. We are able to take advantage of the fact that we live in a disposable society and have obtained everything in the café without spending a penny. There’s a window cleaner that comes in and he washes our window in exchange for food, someone else built some shelves. It’s Pay As You Feel not Pay with Cash.
Top tips and advice for someone wanting to start a social enterprise?
Just do it. If you’ve got enough passion and belief in it, it will happen. When I said to people a year ago that I’m going to start a café feeding people waste food and they can pay what they feel they laughed at me. But now I get the same people who told me it wouldn’t work asking me why it’s not happening all over the world.
What reminds you it’s all worth it?
There’s a young guy who comes in, he’s insecure, his benefits have been stopped and he’s at college full time. He’s just a lovely guy with a really nice heart. I’m not a counsellor here to sort people’s problems but when you meet these genuine people that are struggling to get by in life and their confidence has been hit I just want to put my arm round them and help.
There was another guy that was on the verge of committing suicide, he wanted to throw himself out of his flat because he was completely insecure, he didn’t know how he was going to feed himself. He came in, we gave him a meal, and he’s been coming in ever since. He’s now been interviewed because he’s an artist and people love his work. He has this new lease of life and all because we had food. It makes us question what if we just saved this guy’s life, because we’d intercepted food that he was allowed to have and he wouldn’t have found anywhere else.
Where do you see yourself and the café in 20 years’ time?
I think this place will always exist. It’s the first and it will always be the headquarters. I want to keep it local, and be part of changing the face of Armley. It’s got huge potential and I want to bring that community spirit back. I think it’s so diverse that if we can do it here we can do it anywhere. The local people have so much to offer and in turn I think they need the café.
‘The Real Junk Food Project’ isn’t still tackling the same problem. If it is I will see it as a failure because we have to change social perception, we haven’t educated people on how to be more food conscious.
Hopefully we can say to people” it’s your café you do as you please” and we will be there to support it financially and legally. I’m also the coordinator for ‘Incredible Edible Armley’ and I’d like to see us push forward with the urban gorilla side of things. Let’s get the whole town street full of veg boxes and hanging baskets.
The Pay as You Feel Café, 1 Chapel Lane, Armley, Leeds LS12 2SDJ, Opening times are 9-4pm
There is also a ‘swap-shop’ facility, allowing the public the option to donate waste food produce to be intercepted by those whom with to use it for themselves, their families or their friends.
The cafe promotes ‘suspended coffee’ and has free Wi-fi.
If you would like to find out more about the Pay As You Feel cafe https://www.facebook.com/PAYFcafe
For more information about The Real Junk Food Project please visit https://www.facebook.com/TheRealJunkFoodProject
For more information about setting up a social enterprise http://www.leedscf.org.uk/ideas-that-change-lives/