Belper community meal serving up good food and friendship

Just a few months after its launch, the Freedom Feed Em community meal at Number 28 has won many fans.
Just a few months after its launch, the Freedom Feed Em community meal at Number 28 has won many fans.

One of the best nights out in Belper returns next week offering a menu of delicious food, electric atmosphere and all the ingredients to cook up future friendships.

Freedom Feed ‘Em is a monthly community meal which has been running at the Number 28 centre since early 2016 with great success.

The night is a social melting pot which brings people together from all walks of life to share food and conversation.

The night is a social melting pot which brings people together from all walks of life to share food and conversation.

Organiser Miles Halpin, 51, said: “I set up another night in Wirksworth about four years ago. I just decided to take a gamble, book a community hall and see what happened.

“It went so well that I decided to expand it into Belper - and it’s really taken off.”

The idea for the night came to Miles when he was tasked with preparing a meal while on a volunteering holiday in Germany.

He said: “It was just me and a Spanish guy and we prepared this feast for 60 people, and it was just really nice to feel how it brought us all together.

“Even I find social situations a bit weird sometimes when you have to talk to strangers, but sharing food is a great way to make people feel comfortable and get conversations flowing without any awkwardness.”

The events regularly fill the capacity of 40 with a different cook and menu every time, and diners paying as much or as little as they are able to.

Miles said: “It’s important to be as inclusive as possible. If someone can’t afford to pay much they are still welcome, if someone can pay a bit more then that’s great.”

Once the cost of the venue and ingredients are covered, all the money goes to a charity of the cook’s choice, which means there is an incentive for volunteers to don the apron.

So far, he estimates the meals have raised around £5,000 in support of at least 50 diverse charities.

The cook also gets free rein to design the menu, while diners are free to stage entertainment such as talks, songs or poetry readings, or simply let the conversation flow.

Miles said: “Number 28 is such a lovely venue, it feels like a big party from the start.”

Many diners choose to get stuck into the work too, whether chopping vegetables, stirring the pans, or washing up afterwards, but there are no expectations.

The inclusive ethos also means that every three-course meal is vegan-friendly.

Miles said: “As soon as you start cooking meat you may as well hang a sign on the door saying some people aren’t welcome. This way everyone can enjoy it, whatever their background.

“The food’s healthy and economical too - given we only open once a month we really can’t afford food waste.”

The next event is on Thursday, January 26, starting at 6.30pm, and any profit will be donated to mental health support charity Mind.

The menu has a north African theme, with spicy Moroccan soup for the starter, followed by butternut squash and almond tagine, with cous cous and chilli salad. For dessert, it’s spiced Moroccan oranges with lemon shortbread.

To book your place, or find out about future events, join the Freedom Feed ‘Em group at www.facebook.com/groups/FreedomFeedEm, and simply add your name to the list of those attending.

Subsequent events will be held every fourth Thursday of the month throughout 2017.