Where did the idea for Compliments of The House come from?
While backpacking in New Zealand, Sinéad volunteered at the world's first retail food waste redistributor, the amazing Free Store in Wellington. The Free Store is a vibrant community hub, providing people with food and essentials, as well as offering them a helping hand in their time of need. Seeing the benefits first hand, and having experienced homelessness and hunger herself, Sinéad felt inspired to bring the concept back to her home in South London.
How was the idea translated into something that would work in the UK?
The Free Store in New Zealand focuses on surplus food provision and community-building, two things Sinéad was adamant about bringing with her to CoTH. However, here in the UK, we face very different and pressing issues that the charity had to tackle to successfully support those in need.
Unlike in NZ, freeganism is not widely practised in the UK, and the shame and stigma around asking for food support is rife. CoTH calls its service users ‘guests’ to ensure those struggling feel invited into our hubs as valued members of the community. This changes the face of traditional food-provision services. We’re also aware of the high unemployment rates that can prevent increasingly marginalized populations from accessing food. At CoTH, we support our guests to tackle the issues they’re facing directly, through work experience and education guidance .
CoTH also offers culturally and religious appropriate food goods to our guests, understanding their needs for specific and varied diets.
How is CoTH different from other food-redistribution charities?
We stop good food from going to landfill, and use this otherwise untapped resource to feed those in need. This means we’re an environmentally driven charity taking direct action at a grassroots level. Unlike FareShare and The Felix Project (who do an amazing job), CoTH is a redistribution charity connected directly with the community and its needs.
We understand the importance of a healthy balanced diet and being able to choose what you want to eat based on personal differences in taste. We don’t offer set meals or cook any food because we don’t believe choice should be restricted to those who can afford it. We provide the food that other eateries in Brixton are serving paying guests. We open daily to make sure our guests have access to this food consistently, and we know guests by name, encouraging a personal relationship so we can get to know them and their needs. This helps us to nourish guests’ wider wellbeing, by signposting support or guidance on our Back to Work and Care Leaver schemes.
On top of all this, we also give the community the opportunity to provide the solutions. We make a positive long-term impact by encouraging our food partners and other businesses to sponsor our Back to Work scheme or specially cooked luxury meals and fundraising support. Our modern approach to hospitality within charity means brands want to align with us. And, more importantly, it helps guests to feel part of the wider food community. We put people at the heart of what we do and want to create food hubs that they are proud of.
“It’s scandalous that in such a wealthy country, people are going without food because they can’t afford to eat. It affects the quality of their life, their potential in the world and their sense of worth and respect. CoTH gives people access to opportunities through food, while connecting to a community full of love, kindness and respect.”
Sinéad Browne, founder, CoTH – Find out more about her story here
Our Covid-19 journey
COVID-19 has made an impact on all our lives, and it’ll be years before we can assess its full effect.
But thankfully for our guests, CoTH’s COVID-19 journey, although bumpy, has been a successful one.
In response to the sudden outbreak in the UK in early 2020, CoTH was forced, almost overnight, to close our hub doors to the public. Our food redistribution service in Brixton Village had to stop, leaving our guests without support.
Although a tragic and difficult decision for our CEO, this step was essential for safeguarding the health of our guests (service users). CoTH’s hub was in a busy and central food market, making social distancing near impossible. Many of our guests also suffer from physical disabilities and issues of malnourishment, placing them in the high-risk group category that are still advised to shield.
Other local food banks were also forced to close at this time, leaving both existing and new service users without means of support. Many food support organisations that relied on donations had to halt services due to the potential safe implications of accepting externally sourced food goods. Stockpiling by the general public also meant they struggled to source enough food for those that relied on them.
How we turned things around.
Within one week our CEO had set up a free Covid-19 delivery service.
We listened to what our guests needed, and worked with the local council to establish a fortnightly delivery service that used council contracted vans. CoTH signposted guests to other services for extra support and made our referral system accessible to all (disability friendly and self-referred). We also expanded our team and put systems in place to enable remote working so we could cope with the sharp increase of those using our service.
While other food-orientated charities and charities in general struggled through the effects of Covid-19, CoTH successfully transformed its service to make an even bigger impact and get more exposure. We’ve proved we can overcome unexpected situations and stay flexible in our approach to best suit the changing needs of the guests we serve.
We couldn’t have done it without our supporters.
Surplus food sources disappeared overnight with the closure of the food sector across the UK. But thanks to public and corporate donations, we were able to buy food directly from suppliers. We then used this to create food parcels, each worth £40, to nourish and support over 80 regular and more residents in London every fortnight throughout the pandemic.
Through our food parcels, and by signposting where people could find extra support, we helped to alleviate hidden hunger and food poverty during a particularly uncertain time.
Public funding also allowed us to grow as a charity over the past year. CoTH now owns two charity vans for our delivery service that we use to collect more food waste from a growing number of local businesses that surround our hubs, and we’ve employed a member of staff to help us deliver a stable service.
Where we’re headed
What's next for Compliments of The House?
Food waste is the next big thing. We’re all finally realising how much we waste each year, and hundreds of organisations are hoping to get a slice.
We want CoTH to help build this movement for those in need. We want to open Houses in every London borough, before opening them across the rest of the country (maybe the world). Eventually, we want to become a local corner shop for those in need.
Expanding for the future
Once we secure a sustainable Brixton hub, we want to revisit our original plan of opening more hubs across London and the UK to increase our reach and impact.
Higher levels of engagement from local supporters, donors and partners suggest we have a bright and sustainable future. And our recently purchased vans make us optimismistic we can offer more choice in surplus food and a much-needed, consistent lifeline for those in need across London.
If you have a space that you'd like us to use as a hub, please do let us know.
We reach the most marginalised in London, while saving the environment
Donations to our Covid-19 free frontline food delivery service meant we were able to provide nourishment and support to over 80 regular and more residents in London throughout the pandemic. Our £40 food parcels delivered fortnightly, alongside extra signposting support, meant hidden hunger and food poverty statistics were somewhat alleviated through this particularly uncertain time.
Served 1000+ different guests, at an average of 65 guests a day at our hub
As of June 2021 CoTH has:
Saved over 3701.72kg of food from going to waste in landfill (a predicted 12 tonnes to date if COVID had not affected the food sector)
Set up partnerships with 40 local food businesses, for regular donations and/or support with our Back to Work