Melissa Blease tracks some of the local food outlets in our region who are going the extra mile to keep open and deliver crucial food supplies to those most in need.
Pre-Corona, we had plentiful food supplies, endless outlets and a ridiculously bountiful choice of food and drinks choices – including fresh and long life, local and international, store cupboard favourites and exotic ingredients – in supermarkets, mini-express markets, independent local stores and fresh food and farmer’s markets. It was normal, expected. ‘What shall I cook this evening?’ was a question that could have any number of answers, depending on your ambition, and a little instructional help from your favourite TV chef. It was annoying when Waitrose ran out of your favourite brand of tea, or had the wrong type of feta cheese, or didn’t have the Oatibix multi-fruits cereal that started your day off perfectly, but this didn’t happen very often. The idea of rationing in wartime was an era in history to marvel at; we were a community secure in the knowledge that things had changed, that we had ‘modern’ lives where anything was possible. It was unthinkable that our stores might ever run short of anything.
Then things shifted. At first it was through anxiety as the power of the virus loomed: supermarket shelves dwindled in certain areas. A manager in Waitrose was overheard saying to another worker that they had sold a record number of toilet rolls the previous day. Then came the announcement that those most vulnerable to the virus needed to shield themselves, not leaving the house and staying at a safe distance from others. On the heels of this were associated questions about the levels of community support that those vulnerable people would need. And then, the general population was asked to stay at home, only leaving the house for key reasons, including shopping for essential foods. We were in official lockdown.
There was a level of panic. Pasta, tinned foods, flour and UHT milk became dreamy, unlikely prizes. Supermarkets reassured us that their supply chains were strong and if we all stayed calm and bought what we needed, there was no danger of running short. These superpower stores have adapted efficiently and constantly to the different pressures being imposed by the advised safety standards and the needs of their shoppers, including the vast increase in food deliveries that they are enabling to meet at least some of the demand.
There are other local heroes that are particularly close to our heart, because they belong to our city. These are small, independent set-ups, who have adapted their normal come-along-and-shop format around ordering remotely and delivering to people’s doors, and providing additional care and service to cater for the most vulnerable and in need. If there is one thing the epidemic has taught us, it’s that community matters, community cares and being part of a close community is our best hope of a promising future. This is not a comprehensive list, but we wanted to spread the word and to keep you in touch with some of the local food services on offer in these extraordinary times, and, of course, to say ‘thank you’ to all those who are making a difference, and giving back to the community.
When the proprietor of Larkhall Butchers, Peter Milton, delivered a lecture on Contemporary and Emerging Issues faced by small family businesses to Bath University’s Management School last year, he thought Brexit would be the biggest upcoming challenge his business would have to face. And then… well, we all know what happened next.
“Being an independent business in Bath, we never take our customers for granted, and we will always do our best to support their needs,” says Peter. “My concerns about supply actually started weeks before the lockdown, around the first week of March. At this point we could see that disruptions were inevitable and we started to plan ahead accordingly. Of course, I didn’t realise just how extensive the disruption would become. With the shortfall of stock in the supermarkets, the pressure was put on to us to fill the gap in the market. Due to so many businesses closing down, there were large numbers of professionals who had been ‘let go’, who were able to help us – and we in turn helped them by providing a somewhat stable income.
“We also had a huge amount of volunteer helpers coming forward; this was fantastic to see, but I favoured using paid employees who really needed the income wherever possible. Being in a position to help, and not being a charity ourselves, I felt it our duty to do what we could to help the local community and the economy – a losing battle perhaps, but every pebble makes a ripple.” Today, Larkhall Butchers’ home delivery service is making waves. Whatever’s floating your menu boat right now (there’s fish, dairy produce and pantry goodies available too), go forth and ‘shop’ from a business that’s keeping calm and carrying on in order to keep Bath sane.
“Although we’re tired, stressed and sometimes feel like we can’t go on, the essential work we’re doing makes it all worthwhile,” says Peter. “Being able to see the direct results of helping people who have been struggling to get essentials, speaking with people who are over the moon with having us there to help… my job fulfilment has never been higher. We’ve been thrust into a position of enormous responsibility and we’re trying our hardest to make this ordeal easier for everyone. I like to think that we’ve all risen to the challenge, but only time will tell.”
From apple chutney to zucchini by way of dairy, pantry and larder essentials, rollickin’ ready meals and, of course, fabulous bread and associated bakery delights, the click and collect/home delivery door at Thoughtful Bakery is very much open for business. But how?
“When the government announced the Lockdown, I had a tough decision to make,” says Duncan Glendinning, who established his bakery business back in 2008, originally from a stall in Bath Farmers’ Market. “We could, like the majority of Bath business, close, knowing that staff would have to go on furlough and our future would be very uncertain because of the rent and other bills we would still need to cover. Or, we stay open?
“Very quickly, however, I felt the decision was taken out of my hands: bare supermarket shelves, and lots of our customers and other bath residents in a desperate situation, at home and with no food. So – with huge thanks to my incredible team – we’ve completely repurposed the business. We now take orders online for either collection at the bakery or home delivery, and we’ve reached out to our suppliers so we can help them shift stocks that may otherwise spoil.”
But aside from keeping our larders lively, there’s yet more seriously thoughtful food to consider. Contributions to Thoughtful Bakery’s Covid-19 Front Liner Fund – initiated by Duncan alongside developments for his online shop – fund care packages for NHS key workers, delivered directly to the front line.
“Often, in the most difficult of times, you see the most generous gestures being made,” says Duncan. “I’m hugely moved by the generous contributions from Bath residents who are supporting our Covid-19 fund; we’re aiming to supply over 300 meals to the RUH frontline staff when the virus hits its peak in our area to keep our heroes fed while we do our very best to keep the people of Bath fed too. I still find myself becoming teary when I watch the news and I’m reminded of the huge tragedy and personal losses people up and down the country are facing. But right now, it feels so good to be doing something. As for the future… only time will tell.”
Bath’s only authentic Nepalese restaurant Yak Yeti Yak – a family-run venture established 15 years ago by Sarah and Sera Gurung – has, for a very long time, been doing very good things in both their kitchen and for whole communities of folk 4,500 miles away. (Sarah and Sera established the YYY Foundation following the earthquake that devastated Nepal in April 2015.)
In the light of recent developments, Sarah and Sera are spreading that love closer to home, direct to customers in BA1, BA2, Corsham, Box and Colerne courtesy of YYY’s unique ready meals and meal kits… and £1 from every delivery will be split between helping to subsidise meals for key workers at the RUH and the YYY Foundation.
Order up to 6pm for next-day delivery of Nepalese ready meals such as Chicken or Pork Bhutuwa Curry, Chicken Johl, Butternut Squash or Mushroom Curry accompanied, should you so wish, by the kind of sides that turn supper into a feast, from pakoras to rice by way of dahl, chutneys and Bhuteko Bhat (Nepalese fried rice), plus a selection of drinks from ‘the bar’.
Fancy doing it yourself? YYY Meal Kits include everything you need to make dishes such as lamb, pork belly or chicken Shekuwa Kebabs, Chicken Chilli and the restaurant’s legendary Momos. Dish descriptions are refreshingly clear and accessible and you can choose which heat-direction to take your tastebuds on, while easy-to-follow instructions turn the task into an aromatic Nepalese breeze. Ready, steady, cook?
As soon as isolation appeared on the radar, Jim Eveleigh started to batch cook Eveleigh’s Gourmet Ready Meals, including Kebab Kits and the option to tuck into Eveleigh’s now-legendary Jimmy Muffins at the weekend for delivery around Bath and Priston, where he and his family live. “In times like these you have to consider what you have. We have the facilities and the ways and means to do something, however small, to help others,” says Jim. “When planning began, I think we had a day of nervous laughter, a few beers – then we just cracked on.” And there was more ‘cracking on’ to come.
Having spoken to friends that work at the RUH it became clear to Jim that key workers were struggling to get hold of food and basic toiletries, especially when on shift. So, he set up a GoFundMe page that has so far raised over £850 for the Friends of the RUH, and is distributing batches of care packages to staff. Each package contains a sandwich, crisps, a chocolate bar and some fruit, plus that all-important shower gel, shampoo/conditioner… and yes, toilet roll.
“It’s just a little something so that when the key workers finish a shift, their food and even their toiletries are taken care of – it’s about giving those invaluable superstars one less thing to think about,” says Jim. “We’d like to be able to regularly donate care packages to the staff at the RUH to try and make their life a little easier, while they’re caring for us all. Each package costs about £3 to put together, and of course, we’re not making any profit on them. We also donate one care package for every five ready meals that we sell. But we want to do much, much more; the long and short of it is we need your help in the form of donations to be able to do so.” Poised to buy a Care Package? See the link below. eveleighscafe.co.uk/post/covid-19-delivered-ready-meals gofundme.com/f/nhs-staff-care-packages
The Circus Restaurant and the Bath Veg Box Project
The Circus Restaurant on Brock Street have teamed up with the Bath Veg Box Project to deliver vibrant assortments of fresh fruit and vegetables (£16 per box) to Bath and the city’s environs on selected days, plus a selection of locally sourced essentials including dairy produce, bread, eggs, meat frozen Circus Restaurant meals (the latter for collection only) and the restaurant’s own-label red, white and rose wine (yay!). Order online for delivery/click and collect, or drop by the restaurant in person between 10am–12 noon Monday–Saturday.
The Homewood team are volunteering their time every Saturday to rustle up a feast featuring real ale battered haddock, chunky chips, garden mushy peas and tartare sauce ready to collect from their glorious pastoral paradise hotel near Freshford. To order, call 01225 723731 by 4pm on Friday and choose a collection slot between 6-8pm on Saturday. All profits – yup, all profits – will go directly to the RUH Forever Friends Appeal.
The Bath Ales’ brewery shop (Warmley) is open as a collection point for those who live locally every Monday to Friday between 1–4.30pm. Orders and payments need to be made over the phone in advance of collection; see the link below for full details and information on how to collect you beer safely, and bear in mind too that the Bath Ales’ online shop is open for business as usual, offering a UK-wide doorstep delivery service.
Meanwhile, if you’d like to thank a key worker or a local hero who has helped in these difficult times you can them a Bath Ales pint (which can be redeemed as soon as social distancing restrictions have been lifted and pubs reopen) via Bath Ales’ Cheers to Heroes initiative. For every pint bought, St Austell Brewery’s Charitable Trust – of which Bath Ales is part of the family – will match-donate £4.50 to NHS Charities Together. Visit Bath Ales’ online shop, add a ‘hero pint’ to your basket and draft a short message for your nominee; the brewery will then email the recipient a single-use voucher with details on how, and where, they can redeem their pint.
Buy online at Great Western Wine! Wine, spirits, veggie/vegan/low or no alcohol selection, plus great gifts (UK-wide delivery), olive oils and vinegars, too. Standard delivery time is approximately one week, but GWW’s Urban Express service offers next day delivery of amazing value case offers in ten major cities including Bath and Bristol.
Age UK B&NESare offering a lunchtime delivery of a hot meal for people living in B&NES direct to the person’s door, 7 days per week. A main course and a dessert costs just £6.50; click on the link below for the daily menu. Specific dietary requirements can be accommodated, including low sugar, gluten free, and textured meals for those who find it difficult to swallow.
The Bath and NE Somerset Third Sector Group 3SG has bought a host of local partners, charities, residents, students and businesses together to create a Compassionate Community to support everybody during difficult times. On the food front (just one element of the incredible work that 3SG is doing), the team has collaborated with the Sustainable Food Partnership to generate a regularly updated list of local providers offering food services to people across Bath and North East Somerset. Meanwhile, they are welcoming anybody interested in volunteering their support to deal with the current COVID-19 situation.
Bath Foodbank centres are closed until further notice, but e-vouchers are allowing people in need (whose numbers are increasing by the day) to have food parcels delivered to their homes via a contact-free delivery service. The service is currently in dire need of cereal, baked beans, tinned tomatoes/vegetables/meat/fish/soup/fruit/rice pudding, packet soup, pasta and jars of pasta sauce, UHT milk, long life juice, chocolate and biscuits, instant mash, coffee, hand wash, soap and shower gel. View a regularly updated list of food collection point locations, or make an online cash donation.