The bacon, sausage and eggs are sizzling and the beans, mushrooms and tomatoes steaming. All we’re waiting for is some more black pudding and toast and then four more plates can go.
We’re in the village hall kitchen at Colburn, Catterick Garrison preparing free breakfasts for dozens of veterans.
At first the operation seems chaotic, with regular interlopers appearing and disappearing. But it soon becomes clear the weekly event is part of Angie and Helen’s well-oiled machine.
The pair, also known to many as councillors Dale and Grant, are the leader and deputy leader of Richmondshire District Council.
However, dishing out ladles of baked beans, Helen says : “This is us in our element. Where we do our proper work.”
She is talking about the community interest company, Colburn Community Hub and Cafe. It’s a multi-faceted venture they launched last year in response to the pandemic exposing an array of needs in one of North Yorkshire’s most deprived communities.
They talk enthusiastically about their how the hub has been well received in Colburn as well as across Richmondshire and how the hub has recently attracted the attention of the constituency’s MP Rishi Sunak for a visit.
“This is not about veterans, soldiers and civilians”, says Angie, “it’s about the whole community linking and working together”.
She adds: “When we started this in October last year on the back of free school meals for pupils at Colburn School we were told it would be for about 60 kids, because that was the number who qualified over the summer holidays. By the October half-term it had gone up to 92 kids.”
The escalating need over the past year, they emphasise, has been startling.
“We started a Food Share scheme on the back of people coming through the door. We realised there was a gap. A lot of people couldn’t afford the transport to get to the food bank in Richmond or didn’t like going there as you have to be referred. To me the fact that somebody is waking through the door is good enough.
“Originally we thought it would come to a natural end, but that isn’t going to happen. With the £20 top-up gone from Universal Credit, anybody who shops knows supermarket costs have risen, so that £80 less a month is massive. It makes my hairs raise the fact we’re having to do this in 2021, but we can’t afford to stop doing it.”
There’s laughter and chatter as dozens of veterans tuck into their breakfasts, but over in the main hall Angie and Helen unassumingly put a middle-aged man at ease as he arrives at the Food Share scheme.
Single men in their fifties are common visitors to the Food Share, Angie says. What’s more surprising, she adds, is the number of homeowners who are needing the goods local stores such as Farm Foods donate.
There’s been a run on deodorant, coffee, biscuits and shampoo, but that’s quickly forgotten as a donation of J-cloths and cleaning products arrives as they’re particularly popular with Food Share users.
“When we started we had about 20 people a week”, says Helen. “We are now up to about 70.”
“I do think when you are having about 1,000 individuals coming in for stuff every month there’s a big gap that the Government needs to recognise”, says Angie.
“This isn’t unique to Colburn or Richmondshire, it is happening throughout the country. It’s not recognised here as much as some other places because people perceive Richmondshire to be affluent.”
After it became clear supporting isolating key workers with deliveries during the pandemic would benefit the community as a whole, the hub has set about offering a range of other practical help.
At the heart of this is a household items recycling service. Angie says a grateful home has just been found for a children’s play kitchen that a resident would otherwise have taken to the tip.
“We’re also hoping to help people get back to work by helping with CVs”, says Angie, before revealing plans to hold upcycling taster sessions for residents.
Christmas dinner is being offered there to anybody who would like to spend the day with other people, rather than just the elderly and vulnerable.
“This is not about veterans, soldiers and civilians”, says Angie, talking about the “it’s about the whole community linking and working together”.