It has taken us a long time to get Bermondsey Community Kitchen where it is today and this is our story, it may be a long one but it is a success.
Mike Donovan the Founder and Chair of Bermondsey Community Kitchen, is born and bred Bermondsey. Here is Mike’s background so you can understand why he decided to take on the enormous task of setting up the BCK and why it means so much to him personally.
Mike grew up in a family of four brothers and three sisters, all living in a three-bedroom council home, which was assigned to them through a raffle with their family name being picked out of a hat. Mike’s father, despite being a London Docker did all he could to help in the family home and often would cook dinners from the rabbits and chickens he kept in the garden and the vegetables he grew himself to provide for the family. This is something Mike feels we greatly need to bring back in Bermondsey and with this project we will aim to educate the future youth of Bermondsey in how they can bring back some of the old ways and incorporate them into modern life.
Mike’s first job was whilst he was still at school, age 14 at a Printer’s in Victoria and after school he would take two buses and a tube to get there. Mike left St Michael’s School with only a C in Woodwork. However, this didn’t stop him from becoming a successful businessman in several lines and his personal story demonstrates that you can always move forward.
Mike began the Bermondsey Community Kitchen, after seeing the young people in the area with nothing to do and nowhere to go, he wanted to give something back to the community he has always held dearly and has invested huge amounts of energy and time into the project.
This is where the story really begins. After chatting with Ann Clayton, the Local Community Engagement Manager for Big Local South Bermondsey, she steered Mike in the direction of Un-Ltd, a grant funder who would provide not only startup funding for new social enterprises but also mentoring support, which in some ways is more valuable than the funding itself. An application was submitted and was successful. Un-Ltd provided us with the mentors Debevoise & Plimpton, a law firm, who supported BCK in becoming a C.I.C (Community Interest Company). They submitted our Mems & Arts to Companies House and established us as a non-for profit, vital to obtaining the additional funding required to get the project off the ground. Our organisation was officially constituted in July 2014.
Ann then advised Mike to approach United St Saviour’s, a local north Southwark charity and Mike was successful in securing £50,000.00 of funding for the equipment required to fit out the kitchen. This funding did not ensure an easy path to officially opening. There was loads of bumps in road and this is where the hard work really started.
The space for the kitchen was empty and derelict, it had to be cleared out and the floor had to be leveled off, which entailed bringing 3 ton of sand and cement up the stairs. Then polysafe capped and coved kitchen flooring was fitted. The £50k’s worth of equipment had to be carried up the stairs by Mike, Russell (our Vice Chair) and help from local boys. Carrying 8 double ovens, multiple boxes, a 10 grid combine oven and 4 fridges up two sets of stairs was not an easy task but once it was all up there, unpacked and laid out, people could see the vision.
Funding from Grosvenor Estates for five years was secured for the trainer, Ms. Jenny Armstrong, who had been patiently waiting for the kitchen to get to a point where she could join us. Also, funding from Southwark Council was secured for a Grants and Admin Officer to take on the additional workloads and strain of the project.
Once all equipment was in place, we had to have all the electrics fitted. This was a major task and took considerable time with many setbacks. The electric supply in the premises was inadequate, we had few options open to us on how we could fit a new three-phase electric power supply. Power Networks put forward fitting a new sub station on our road as there wasn’t currently one there, this would have cost £95k and was out of our funding budget. Once we ruled this option out we were provided with another from Power Networks, reducing our power supply and digging a trench up the rear of the service road to run a new cable supply into the property from the mains cables on the street, this option was the only one we had and cost around £15,000. This however was not the end of our electricity problems, we now had the power we needed but none of our equipment had been wired in. This is when our saviors Keepmoat Ltd came to our rescue, they are a local building and regeneration company working with Southwark Council and not only supplied the cables and wiring required but fitted it free of charge, this work took weeks and was worth around £15,000.00, without Keepmoat we wouldn’t be operational today.
You would think this was the end but it isn’t. There is so much work that must be put in to setting up a kitchen of our size. Our custom made 8 meter long cooker hood then arrived flat pack and had to be build in three separate sections, hoisted with a lift and secured to the ceiling on tracks, then the extractor flue had to be built and secured to the external building with a hole knocked through the wall connecting it to the cooker hood. Multiple pieces of equipment had to be put together and set up in the kitchen including 11 prep tables, mixers, double fryer, knife racks, free standing racks, shelves, hand towels unit, kitchen bins, industrial mops, locker units, utilities cupboard, fire extinguishers, health and safety signs and more. Hundreds of cooking utensils had to be unpacked, cleaned and put away including 32 different pans, 24 frying pans, 24 pots and colanders, 432 knives, forks and spoons, bowls, trays, saucepans, knife packs, peelers, graters, spoons and tongs, whisks, rollers, brushes, molds, basins, rolling pins, scales, pasta machines, plates, sieves and many more. The chef uniforms had to be unpacked, folded and put away. The boiler had to be plumbed in, as well as the two sets of double sinks and the combine oven. The list was endless but it was achieved.
The BCK was finally on its way to opening. Now we had to recruit students onto our program, we advertised in the local papers, held open days, put up signs in local noticeboards, promoted through the community council meetings and newsletters, went to the job center and education facilities and contacted charities who worked with young people such as the Princes Trust. Our project was new and we had to work harder to find young people willing to join the course not only because we didn’t have a track record but also because few young people in the area was aware of what we were. Finally, students began joining our course in September 2015 and with the flexibility of the course and our ongoing enrollment policy we built up our first cohort of students.
Our official launch was in September 2015, it was a success with many of our grant funders attending, members of the local community, those who has helped us along the way and our new cohort of students. Ann from the South Bermondsey Partnership helped secure celebrity chef Raymond Blanc through their existing work with Belmond UK. Renowned chef Raymond Blanc stayed at the event much longer than he needed to and gave a passionate speech about the power of cooking. The Michelin star chef said: “It is always humbling to see people come together like this. Good luck to these young people, who have an amazing opportunity. Food is about connecting with people, connecting with family, with history, with landscape. It is about fun!”. Raymond has continued to support our project by supplying us with his own kitchen equipment and offering to provide a demonstration cooking event with the students.
Ultimately more and more funding has been secured to ensure the project can continue, being a new project without any experience or success rate, this was difficult. Multiple applications for funding where put in and not all was successful, it is tough trying to persuade an organisation to fund your start up project when you only have a certain number of words to do it in, but you must preserver and if they visited our project and met Mike they could see the passion he had to make this work.
Now Bermondsey Community Kitchen is a success in its own right. Our first cohort of Level 1 City and Guilds Food Preparation and Cooking students passed their qualification in July 2016. Some of our students have moved onto Level 2 City and Guilds Professional Cookery qualification, with the remaining going into employment. Our project was lucky enough to have a lot of help and support from not only grant funders but also our community along the way.
Bermondsey Community Kitchen received funding to purchase the cafe based below our project and we officially took it over in April 2017. The cafe will continue to run as normal and the profits will be put back into running the Bermondsey Community Kitchen. It is expected the cafe profits will sustain the kitchen in the long term future.
Our organisation is now expanding and we are not only a training facility but a community cafe and we will be putting together different projects including raised growing beds, free nutritional workshops, free health and hygiene training, barista training and more.