Features Leytonstone

More than just a cafe

A community kitchen and cafe in Cann Hall Road, Leytonstone has become a lifeline for locals battling food poverty. The Echo meets its founder Carol Crowe and her team of volunteers

By Marco Marcelline

Carol ‘Caz’ Crowe (centre) with two volunteers Credit: The Farm Community Kitchen

As gentrification continues to run rampant in Waltham Forest, it may come as a shock that there are still places where you can grab a sausage roll and a coffee for less than £4. The Farm Community Kitchen in Leytonstone is one of them.

More of a community resource centre than a cafe, The Farm’s network of 50 volunteers cook and deliver 300 meals every week to local people in need. The Farm operates a no-questions-asked policy when it comes to need; anyone that presents to the cafe and requests food or help is entitled to it.

Carole ‘Caz’ Crowe founded The Farm in September 2020. She says she was one of many who were “woken up” to the deeply entrenched poverty in their communities by lockdown.

 “A lot of us, we wake up, go into central London, come back home after work, and don’t really connect to the [local] community. But then when people had to work from home because of the pandemic, they actually sort of went out and about in their area.[Lockdown] gave people a chance to spend more time around their home, rather than just use it as a place to sleep.”

The Farm was formerly a West Indian specialty bakery run by Labour MP Dawn Butler’s parents (an original sign advertising ‘hot bread’ reminds passers-by of the brick end-of-terrace history).

The Butlers’ still own the building, Caz says, and she pays them rent. “Dawn’s mum is practically my neighbour”, Caz adds. “I’ve seen her and Dawn here quite a few times. The [Butler] family were quite supportive because it’s a community venture and they subsidised the rent a little bit. It helped us out.”

Our conversation meanders slightly to Dawn getting thrown out of Parliament for calling the-then Prime Minister Boris Johnson a “liar” in 2022. Caz opines: “She should’ve got an apology for that, honestly.”

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Founder Carol ‘Caz’ Crowe in the Farm

The cafe doesn’t just help the food-insecure through its meals on wheels service; it seeks to open up routes back into work and build self-esteem for its team of volunteers.

Many of the volunteers, such as former nursery nurse Donna Orford, have been out of work for some time to care for their families. She says that volunteering with The Farm has been “transformative” for her mental health.

Donna became a volunteer a year ago when she happened to overhear Caz explaining to someone what the cafe was about. “I was walking past [The Farm] and heard her, and I ended up coming in for a cup of tea. And then I started chopping vegetables for meals.”

Volunteering at The Farm has given her some much-needed structure to her days. “I was just sat at home. If I’ve not got a plan to come in and do something, everything just sort of goes out of the window. So for me, having that structure of knowing I’m coming in,  it helps me out.”

Caz is hopeful that she can get to a point where she can employ more people, but in the meantime, she requires as many volunteers to keep the operation going. “We have people in their 80s who come and help us peel potatoes. Last week, a woman from Sierra Leone made jollof rice in bulk. We also got jerk chicken done by a lady who runs the hairdressers across the road.”

While she has a background in hospitality and catering, Caz points out she can’t cook everything on her own. Laughing she says, “I can whack a shepherd’s pie or make bulk pasta meals for example but I can’t handle jerk chicken heat;  I’m a korma girl!”

The Farm is at 102 Cann Hall Road, E11 3NH

Interested in volunteering? Visit: thefarmcommunitykitchen.com

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