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Nourishing the community, one drum-banging bear at a time

Across the country poor families struggle to afford healthy food, but one community has united social business and art to provide a tasty solution.

As a new study shows the UK’s poorest families can’t afford to keep up with government guidelines on healthy eating, one local community is bringing together social business and art to break down those barriers.

This week, the Food Foundation warned that nutritious foods can be as much as three times the price of less healthy ones, making them out of reach for less well-off families.

But in the Northumberland town of Berwick-upon-Tweed, the Northern Soul Kitchen is determined that everyone in their community has access to good, healthy food.

They take unsold, yet edible products from supermarkets, local shops and households to create affordable and balanced meals for all.

In their pay-as-you-feel café visitors can pay what they think the food is worth, donate whatever amount they can afford or even volunteer their time and skills to pay for a meal.

The café is normally subsidised by the group’s outside catering jobs, but due to Covid-19 restrictions, these have been cancelled.

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“We have the same running costs that everyone else has, as a business, but we only ask that people pay what they can,” said project manager Millie Stanford. “Sometimes the donations we receive don’t exactly meet the running costs of the project. Usually we keep ourselves above water by doing outside catering and events. Obviously Covid wiped our calendar clean.”

Now award-winning artist Jonny Hannah has stepped in to help them raise the money they need to keep going. He has produced a limited edition artwork on sale through the Northern Soul Kitchen website with all proceeds going direct to the project.

“I’m a big fan of independent retailers. Without the big chain behind them, they can really make a difference,” says Hannah, who won a BAFTA for his 2000 animated film “The Man with the Beautiful Eyes”.

“Northern Soul Kitchen take food that was going to be thrown away, and it’s a kind of alchemy. They make magic from nothing.”

Stanford said that the money raised from Hannah’s poster will help them stay “above water” through the coronavirus restrictions.

“Jonny has been such an absolute star to work with, and created something really beautiful. It’s a really big help,” she added.

Hannah discovered Northern Soul Kitchen while researching for a planned exhibition about Northumberland folklore – now on hold due to Covid-19. The poster draws on the special sense of community that Hannah sees in Northumberland, as well as the rich local history.

“She’s wearing a bear mask because it’s the symbol of Berwick,” he explains. “There’s a famous bear in Berwick, who was called Wojtek. He was from the Polish army and was brought across after the Second World War as a sort of mascot.”

The inspiration may come from the past, but the artwork is about looking to the future with hope.

“It’s a bear-mask wearing woman banging a drum, saying things could improve should we act collectively – with a dose of camaraderie,” says Hannah. “That sort of positivity, I think, is important.”

Jonny Hannah’s creative support for the Berwick community is just one of the Reasons to be Cheerful you’ll find in next week’s magazine. As the UK prepares for the impact of a second wave of coronavirus, we’re unearthing the positive stories to add some much-needed positivity to your day.

Get your copy – featuring our own exclusive art cover from Jonny Hannah – from your local vendor from Monday October 5, or find out how to subscribe here.

To find out more about Northern Soul Kitchen, and to buy a copy of Hannah’s poster see northernsoulkitchen.co.uk

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