By John Haswell, Client Services Director
Working for Food Alert for over four years, where our focus is on mitigating risk and disaster, not even we could plan for the overnight impact of a global pandemic that lead to the immediate closure of all our clients’ businesses.
The shockwaves hit us all hard, not just those of us working in hospitality, but the country as whole. Phrases such as lockdown, furlough and unprecedented times became the norm.
But despite the doom and gloom, the hospitality sector, true to its reputation for community spirit, innovation and reinvention, faced the challenge head on. This sense of positivity and creativity in the most bleakest of times fuelled my own personal desire to do something worthwhile.
So, when I took a call from a volunteer at Compassion London it did not take a minute for my colleagues and I at Food Alert to offer our services free of charge and do what we could to support.
Compassion London is the brainchild of Leon Aarts, a former chef and philanthropist who was behind Calais Kitchens, feeding refugees in the Calais camps.
Recognising the impact Covid-19 was going to have on our nation – from NHS staff working round the clock trying to save lives, to the homeless and vulnerable isolating at home, Leon used his experience and networks to establish Compassion London.
From an initial small team of chefs, foodies and volunteers all ages from all walks of life, he managed to pull off the impossible to cook and deliver delicious, nutritious meals for those who needed them the most.
It was not long before the team quickly outgrew its original kitchens and moved to Saracens, but even that didn’t last long with demand outstripping capacity. So, when a move to the massive, state of the art kitchens at Wembley Stadium was on the cards, Food Alert stepped in to offer much needed compliance support and training. The move would allow Compassion London to aspire to prepare and deliver 30,000 meals a week.
For those in the know, Wembley (together with their catering partners Delaware North) sets the Platinum standard for kitchen hygiene and safety, with detailed paperwork, checks and balances all required before being allowed to use the kitchens. Very few achieve the requirements, so for a newly established and fast-growing voluntary project such as Compassion London, the opportunity seemed like a pipe dream.
Having had first-hand experience of working with the Executive Chef for Wembley, we were able to support Compassion London through the compliance – offering everything from liaising with the local authority, Food Standards Agency, remote food hygiene audits, HACCP paperwork and online training.
In total we have delivered, with our training partners, Flow, over 400 free courses for volunteers in Level 1 and 2 Food Safety and Health & Safety qualifications.
I was also able to call on my friend and Executive Head Chef at Wembley, Harry Lomas, to support the project and help Compassion London get through the stadium’s doors.
As a team we were successful, and I honestly felt that we had won the FA Cup Final. But the story doesn’t end there. With rumours of lockdown easing, Wembley was going to need to reclaim its kitchens. So, Compassion London found itself on the search for yet another home – the fourth in as many months. The good news, is that thanks to its Wembley connections, the project was able to seamlessly take up its new and existing home at Alexander Palace (Ally Pally).
The entire experience has been one of my best achievements during lockdown and has meant I can go to bed with a smile on my face, knowing that the work we have done is having a direct effect on people in need. As Leon says: “No- one should go to bed hungry.”
I am hungry though, hungry to get involved in more volunteering projects and do what I can, along with the support of my colleagues at Food Alert to support charities, such as Compassion London, so they can continue their amazing work and stamp out food poverty in this country.
To find out more or donate to Compassion London visit https://www.compassionlondon.org/
Natasha Dunn, lawyer and Compassion London volunteer, said: “John Haswell from Food Alert has been amazing, absolutely incredible. John helped us put together a more formal structure and thanks to him we were able to go to Wembley and deliver up to 6,000 meals a day. The fact that the Wembley team knew Food Alert made the process easier, so what would usually have taken several months, saw us turnaround in weeks.
“From compliance to training, John and the Food Alert team have supported us every step of the way, with all the necessary documentation, policies and qualifications required for us to operate professionally and compliantly.
“We can’t thank John enough and as we start scaling back our operations to 3,000 meals a day, we will look back on what we achieved and continue to achieve with a collective sense of wonder and pride.”