Local: REfUSE

What’s the story of REfUSE?

Four years ago, I graduated from Durham University and decided to commit to a year longer in Durham, serving the place and community that I’d only seen a fraction of in my undergraduate years. I worked at the Marriott Hotel on the breakfast shifts, and filled my afternoons with youth work with Durham Youth For Christ, supporting students at Emmanuel Church Durham, and working at Sanctuary 21, the Salvation Army Café on Saddler Street. At the end of every breakfast shift, I was made to join in throwing away extortionate amounts of delicious mushrooms, bacon, eggs, bread, cheese, sausages, gallons of freshly squeezed grapefruit and orange juice. And then I’d wander a couple of hundred metres up the road to Sanctuary 21, and serve up simple vegetable soup and cheese toasties, which to many would be the only proper meal of the day. The same year food banks in England saw demand escalate; I couldn’t live with witnessing this extravagant waste in such close proximity to real food poverty. So I got involved with FoodCycle Durham, a hub of a national charity that aims to fight food poverty and social isolation by serving meals with food collected from local shops at the end of each day.

Skip forward some years, I now feel I’ve become a part of the community in Durham, and have come to understand the complexities, cultural/systemic problems and down-right stupidity that causes food waste, as well as the huge environmental impact that it has. My amazing friend and housemate Mim and I set up REfUSE last year: a Community Interest Company that puts on pop-up restaurant events using food that would otherwise be wasted.

REfUSE is part of The Real Junk Food Project: an organic network of cafes around the UK and the world that all work on the same model: collecting food from retailers, caterers, charities, farms and wholesalers, and serving it up to the public on a “Pay As You Feel” basis. The idea is to challenge those who come to eat with us to re-assign value to food that has been wrongly labelled as waste. This value may not be monetary – we got the food for free – but we want to think about the resources, time, energy and effort that went into making it. In the same way, we value every single person who comes in our doors, not by the money in their pockets but the skills, time, energy and personality they bring to our movement. People are encouraged to wash up, play music or blog about us to pay for their meals.

Where are you up to so far?

So far, we have put on 26 events, saved 3800kgs of food from going to waste, and made 2933 meals.

The Real Junk Food Project is contributing to a fast-growing awareness of a huge problem in the UK, and all the major retailers have now committed to addressing it. REfUSE was even on BBC National (and World!) news in May as we served 160 guests at a wedding a banquet using only food that would otherwise have been thrown away.

We love students getting involved and coming along to REfUSE’s events. One thing I particularly love is that it is an opportunity to ‘break the bubble’ of student life: to meet and eat with people from all walks of life in Durham. Food is a powerful way of connecting people, equal over a shared meal. Come along to our events (or our café when it opens!) and make new companions: discover new things about the city you live in.

How can we be supporting you?

Lots of exciting plans lie ahead for REfUSE: we hope to open a full-time café in Chester-le-Street and buy a van. We’re crowdfunding this month! We would appreciate it so much of you could help us raise more pledges to make this dream happen. There are some great rewards on our campaign page! Please help us share the campaign far and wide: use all your social media skills and networks and help us tell our story!

What’s your top tip? 

Don’t be scared of your food! Ignore Best Before dates; and Use By dates are often set more risk-averse than they need be. Use your common sense, and all your senses. If something doesn’t look or smell right, don’t eat it – simple! Learn to be creative and adventurous with your food: make new things with yesterday’s leftovers, and don’t feel like you have to stick exactly to recipes. Use your freezer. Buy good bread: a sourdough loaf, as well as being the most delicious, can keep for weeks. So too can tea, hard cheese and root vegetables. Just cut off the sprouting bits and pare back the mould. Remember, supermarkets have a vested interest in selling us food with short best-before dates, because it means we will buy more.

Check out LoveFoodHateWaste.com for hundreds of food waste-avoiding and money saving tips.

How can we be praying for you both?

We are so thankful for the support Just Love students have given us over the past year.

  • Please pray for us as we continue this Crowdfunding campaign and get things going in Chester-le-Street.
  • Pray for good connections with the community, and for all the building projects and café opening to go smoothly.
  • Please pray for energy, faith in the hard times, and for time to find rest in God.

Follow us on Twitter @REfUSE_cic, Facebook.com/REfUSECIC, or email REfUSEcic@gmail.com


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