A ‘gradual’ takeover of Our Kitchen on the Isle of Thanet will be carried out next month by Social Enterprise Kent (SEK).
Scheme founder Sharon Goodyer is retiring from the venture after five years at the helm.
Our Kitchen was first set up by Sharon in July 2017, initially from the former Cliffsend Village Stores, to offer healthy meals. ranging from 70p, £1.40 and chef’s specials at around £4.
Where it began
Sharon had been a teacher for 26 years until she was forced to leave education in 2000 because she had Parkinson’s disease.
It was then that she took her first venture in the food industry selling old-fashioned sponge cakes on Kent market stalls. Within three years Sharon’s business had a turnover of £5million, three shifts of employees and contracts that amounted to 10,000 cakes a day.
When the recession hit Sharon lost everything and spent several months sofa surfing while saving up enough money to start again.
And she did, setting up a new business selling Bar15 – a no added sugar cereal bar with 15 natural ingredients.
With more business experience that venture was a success which Sharon eventually sold on before retiring- or so she thought.
She was prompted shelve the retirement and set up the kitchen scheme after hearing a mum on a bus tell her child tea would be hotdogs and alphabet potato shapes. Sharon said: “That meal is about 50p per head. It’s ok but you can’t always feed kids like that and expect them to be alert. The kitchen helps with healthy, good meals that are affordable and easy to cook.”
Our Kitchen was born and it has grown ever since.
In 2018 the first Summer Kitchen sessions began during the school break, aimed at making sure children and families were fed with affordable, nutritious meals as well as having activities to take part in.
Our Kitchen teamed up with Drapers Mills school, Get Out Get Active (GOGA) Thanet, Fareshare, Asda, Windmill Allotments, Geoff Philpott’s farm, Your Leisure and county councillor Barry Lewis to offer the meals and activities scheme throughout August.
The scheme – which served some 1,642 meals to families in that first year – then expanded in 2019 to run at Drapers Mills primary and Dame Janet primary.
In 2020/21 Our Kitchen worked with food banks and FareShare delivering over 2,000 free food bags to make sure vulnerable people and families were fed during the pandemic and opened Our Shop in Margate High Street – a ‘social supermarket’ – followed by another in Ramsgate.
The work, which earned Sharon a Point of Light award from the Prime Minister last year, has resulted in some 3,500 members at the Our Shop sites.
Now the 71-year-old is handing over the running to SEK.
Margate resident and campaigner Jack Packman, who is contract manager for SEK, says the transition will be smooth with staff and those using the service unlikely to notice any changes.
Jack said: “SEK will take over the brand. In the short term nothing will change and we will continue with it running from the Ramsgate and Margate shops. Volunteers, staff and members should not feel the transition.
“Gradually we will introduce new things, building on the service that is already being provided, bringing in a holistic approach to inequalities -services for employability, social prescribing, health checks. These are all areas that lead to food poverty so we will be building on the good work Sharon has done since 2017.”
Sharon added: “Jack has been working with me on and off for years, we have worked together delivering free food to families, he is regularly helping in our shops and at the community meal every Tuesday. They (SEK) are the right people to take over and I don’t think it could be in better hands.”
And Sharon’s plans for retirement? Well, they don’t include actually retiring despite being in recovery from a brain operation to slow the symptoms of Parkinson’s.
Instead she is setting up a new CIC called Action Today and has agreed a pilot scheme which will run at, and with, Royal Harbour Academy in Ramsgate.
The mum-of-three said: “We are going to work with the school’s meal service so they are not only going to be cooking for the children but also for the community.”
Staff will be offered extra paid hours to cook batches of food, such as Shepherd’s Pie mix and carrot mash – which will then go into fridges on the school site where they can be bought by children and families.
Sharon said: “There will be a volunteer team, maybe children from the school and members of the community who are DBS checked, who will pack the meals and label them for weight, allergens etc. We will have branded freezers and children can buy them on their way hoe.
“The meals will be tip top quality, tasty and nutritious and at my usual affordable prices – £1.60 for a family of four. The reason it can be done cheaply is because local suppliers help with good quality food.
“It will be about children building brains and bodies and being given the proper nutrients to do that.”
RHA headteacher Simon Pullen said: “We are pleased to be in discussions with Sharon about how she can provide cheap, nutritious meals for our families which will be, I am sure, much appreciated during these difficult economic times.”
The Action Today scheme is expected to begin in September.