“Life is going back to normal but it isn’t for these people” – the restaurant-run non-profit feeding Manchester’s most vulnerable

Eat Well has now provided more than 40,000 meals to people across Greater Manchester and they need help to continue providing this vital support

Eat Well has now provided nearly 45,000 meals to people across Greater Manchester and they need help to continue providing this vital support

In March last year, while the rest of us were getting our heads around life during a pandemic and trying to figure out what ‘furlough’ even meant, one restaurant owner kicked into gear and set about providing restaurant-quality meals for some of the people most heavily impacted by the pandemic.

Sparked by a conversation with her sister, a palliative care specialist, Mary-Ellen McTague from The Creameries started Eat Well last year, a week before the first lockdown.

Initially, the focus was on providing meals to NHS staff – those working nightmare shifts at the hospital who would come out of work only to find that the supermarket shelves had been cleared out. After the conversation with her sister, meals were delivered to Wythenshaw A&E that very same day.

As the situation progressed, Eat Well started to turn its attention to other members of the community who desperately needed support included homeless people who were at the time being houses in hotels and those living in women’s refuges.

Gemma Saunders, Mary-Ellen McTague and Kathleen O’Connor are the team leading Eat Well

The food was cooked using left over produce that would have otherwise have gone to waste, by chefs who would normally be working in the then-closed restaurants and then delivered by other volunteers.

Over the last year, Eat Well has worked with organisations across Greater Manchester to provide more than 40,000 meals – around 700 each week.

To kickstart the initial fundraising drive, Eat Well organised a star-studded fundraising event on United We Stream in June last year which helped to raise £72,000.

In July, they launched an Eat Well Marketplace, raising money to fund further meals and also to support food and drink businesses in the city. Shoppers can browse fresh produce, ready made dishes, meal kits, baked goods, alcohol and more from Manchester businesses like Gooey, Meat Co and Cloudwater.

Eat Well has provided more than 40,000 meals to vulnerable people across Greater Manchester so far

The marketplace has helped Eat Well towards its goal of becoming a ‘self sustainable’ social enterprise, which doesn’t rely heavily on fundraising applications. From early on, Eat Well partnered with grass roots organisations in the city to make sure their help was getting to the right people, in the right way.

Director of Eat Well, Kathleen O’Connor said: “We’re not experts in food poverty or the problems that people are facing, everybody that was involved were experts in looking after people and giving them a delicious meal, certainly not in social issues. So we started partnering with grassroots organisations that sit right in the heart of different communities in Greater Manchester that understand where the problems are.”

A large number of Manchester restaurants have supported Eat Well in some way over the past 12 months, from getting involved in cooking meals to selling things on the marketplace, as well as taking part in events and other fundraising activities.

The meals provided include restaurant-quality food cooked by professional chefs, which includes homely and meals, as well as takeaway style comfort food like fish and chips and Nell’s Pizza, to give people that special treat.

Meals have included takeaway treats like fish and chips and Nell’s pizza

“The food that we’re providing goes beyond satiating hunger, it’s about the emotional lift that that provides for people. It’s about hospitality providing people with a moment of relief and a moment of relaxation, a moment where you can switch off from whatever’s going on at that time in your life. That’s what we’re hoping to provide with the meals that we deliver.”

“It’s about generosity and kindness, which is what hospitality is all about,” adds Gemma, Co-Founder and Director.

Organisations they have worked with include Emmeline’s Pantry – a women-only foodbank providing food, clothes, toiletries and baby items to women in need and their families.

Karen from Emmeline’s Pantry said:

“Since the beginning of the pandemic we have been very lucky to have the support of Eat Well MCR. We have had weekly deliveries of wonderful restaurant meals including amazing pies and the most wonderful fish pies to name just two! These meals mean so much to our families for different reasons. Some are in temporary accommodation with just a microwave so having balanced tasty meals in that situation is a blessing.

To have a lovely meal made with care means more than just food. The feedback we have had was that some of the meals took them right back to lovely family memories. We also have the supper club part of our making memories scheme when we get wonderful takeaway meals delivered. The children love the Nell’s Pizzas and Krum Donuts evenings! This shared experience over food is such a treat to our families.  Thanks for everything you do for us Eat Well MCR.”

Looking ahead to the next year, Eat Well want to continue helping people affected by food inequality in the city, but they admit that it has become more challenging to help people as things have started to reopen.

Eat Well has worked with grassroots organisations to provide help where it is needed most

Although the social enterprise was launched as a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the issues that have been highlighted have not gone away, and there are still many people who are struggling to feed themselves and their families.

As well as the very visible issue of rough sleeping, Eat Well attempt to help the ‘hidden homeless’, those who are being put up in refuges or shelters but receive no statutory help.

Eat Well are currently looking to raise enough funds to reach their next milestone of 100,000 delicious, quality meals to be delivered some of the most vulnerable people in our community and show them that they haven’t been forgotten.

Eat Well has provided more than 40,000 meals to vulnerable people across Greater Manchester so far

Gemma says: “We want to make [Eat Well] a sustainable model, so that we can keep doing it and we can keep supporting people who otherwise might slip through the cracks. We’d love to go up to 1,000 meals a week but anything we do is still a drop in the ocean, the problem is huge and we are doing our best to fill a little bit of a hole.”

Kathleen adds: “I think the point is is that we probably knew some of these problems existed before the pandemic, but now we definitely know that they exist and because lockdown restrictions are easing and hopefully life is going back to normal but it’s not for these people that we’re helping, life isn’t changing for the better because lockdown is easing, it’s staying the same.

“So yes, we started something in lockdown off the back of a pandemic but when that goes away those problems aren’t going to go away and we don’t want to either, we want to keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Those looking to support can donate to their Just Giving page and also continue to shop on the Eat Well Marketplace.

To stay up to date with news from Eat Well, visit their Instagram page.

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