Sometimes you meet someone (or lucky for us, lots of people!) and think ‘yes, this is why we do what we do’. The Founder of Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet CIC, Sharon Goodyer, is one of those people.
We first met Sharon, a former Head Teacher turned baking entrepreneur, back in May 2017 when her latest idea had just begun to form.
‘It started when I was on the bus and overheard a mother telling her children what they were going to have for their tea. It was a meal of hot dogs and alphabet potatoes. When I got off the bus I went and bought those items. I was amazed! She had fed her whole family for 50p each! Incredible, but there was nothing nutritional about it. I knew what I could do that might help. I could offer a range of healthier, locally made, affordable frozen meals only in Thanet.’
It was this lightbulb moment that brought Sharon out of retirement and call upon four local people who became friends for advice, including Stephanie Hayman (Founder of Whole School Meals CIC and Chequers Kitchen Cookery School CIC) and Shane Godwin (Commercial Director at East Kent College who in July 2016 opened the award-winning The Yarrow hotel).
Their advice? Contact Funding for All.
After initially meeting Funding for All CEO, Nigel Turley, Sharon was assigned Funding Mentors James Walker, to advise and support on organisational registration, and Karen Raeburn, to mentor Sharon through applying for funding.
‘Karen is an effective enabler and facilitator. Her level of expertise is unbelievable. She is positive, tactful and never drove the project. It was all my vision, but she took my ideas and shaped them. She got into the heart and soul of our organisation.’
Through a series of meetings either in-person or via online video conferencing, Karen guided Sharon through applying to Big Lottery Fund’s National Lottery Awards for All and proved successful.
‘Following that I [Karen] would suggest other funders to her, but really Sharon was up and away, identifying funders herself and contacting them directly. I think she is a good example of why it’s really beneficial for groups to directly contact funders where appropriate, and “sell” your project to them before going for the formal bid.’
Sharon went on to use her newfound knowledge to have further successes with Kent County Council’s Combined Members Grant and the Linda Hogan Charitable Trust. These small grants, along with £10,000 from the Big Lottery Fund, enabled her to acquire and equip a depot to package, store and distribute products for a six month pilot project.
All meals use local produce where possible (typically gleaned by FareShare Kent), contain no added salt, very little sugar and at least 80g of vegetables, as required by the Food Foundation. Meals are developed in-house or in partnership with local take-away restaurants to create wholesome, affordable (on average, meals are sold at £1.10 each) convenience meals.
It’s not just the health benefits, Our Kitchen can boast about either – it’s the environmental ones too.
‘All our packaging is compostable and we keep labelling to a minimum. Two reasons: 1. freezable labels contain plastic so are non-recyclable and 2. a label costs 11p each which does not help keep the cost to a minimum.’
Each meal is accompanied by a pamphlet detailing nutritional content, who supplied the food and the recipe. Limited labelling also means products cannot be sold on.
During the six month pilot (only four of which were active trading), Our Kitchen sold 690 meals via six experimental distribution methods. The trialled methods included:
- Door-to-door: A weekly van visited local, densely populated housing estates which have limited access to food shops.
- Depot: Customers could visit the depot to purchase their convenience meals.
- Groups and organisations: A weekly van visited local meet-ups such as playgroups, children’s centres andcoffee mornings.
- Local retailers: Stocking products in local shops.
- Catering: Our Kitchen catered at local events and business meetings including Lark in the Park and Ageless Thanet celebrations.
- Fridge freezers: A network of fridge freezers where installed across Thanet including leisure centres, community centres and church halls with meals being purchased on site.
Out of the six trialled techniques of selling, methods 1 and 6 proved to be the most successful in terms of sales, audience reach, accessibility and convenience. Overall the pilot was a success with more meals being sold than had been originally projected. With a growing customer-base, Sharon was keen to expand what she and her team of fellow volunteers had worked hard to develop, however an uncertain time followed.
‘For two months we had no money – it’s actually amazing what you can achieve with nothing! The original funding had been spent and we couldn’t apply for more until the pilot was over and the results had come in. Funders want to see your evidence. I should have thought ahead and planned between the pilot and the project starting.’
Of course, Sharon’s spirits were not dampened and she continued to produce meals from donated gleaned food and called on her supporters for financial backing. She didn’t have to wait long as further funding came meaning this summer more fridge freezers will be installed across Thanet including Arts in Ramsgate, Global Generation Church, Millmead Children’s Centre, Newington Community Centre, Quarterdeck Youth Centre and The FeelGood Factory) A pop-up community kitchen will also be held during August at Drapers Mills Primary Academy in Margate.
The vision of Our Kitchen doesn’t stop there, though! Sharon is currently in talks to secure Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet their own site hosting a café, shop and professional kitchen to produce their ready meals, but to also offer in-kind to other local, small food producers on the basis they develop a dish for the CIC.
‘It’s about community and taking ownership of our health. Getting together and enjoying locally sourced food that tastes delicious, is good for us and is affordable to everyone. As the strapline says – Thanet Feeds Itself Better.’