Winter Survival Appeal: Beyond Food Foundation helps turn lives around through a love of cooking

Charity with restaurant in London Bridge where people learn how to run a kitchen, wait on customers and look after a business is one of organisations to benefit from our Christmas appeal
Sonny (left) has taken part in the 'Beyond Food' program which is run by Brigade CEO and chef founder, Simon Boyle (right)
ES Composite
William Hosie2 minutes ago

There’s a poignancy about this place,” said the Marchioness of Bath, visiting Brigade, the bar and restaurant in London Bridge that is the heart of the Beyond Food Foundation. “You can feel the sense of change.” The building was once London’s oldest fire station and today its tenant, Brigade, helps people transform their lives through the power of food, offering apprenticeships to those who have been left behind.

Over six months of training, people learn how to run a kitchen, wait on customers and look after a business — developing skills that will equip them for jobs. Beyond Food is one of eight charities being funded with a £31,250 grant out of the £250,000 pot of funds raised for our Winter Survival Appeal from the Evening Standard Dispossessed Fund, which is administered by the London Community Foundation. So far, our joint appeal with Comic Relief has raised over £2.3 million.

During her visit, the Marchioness, model Emma Thynn, saw first-hand how the charity changes lives and said that it left her speechless. Baking focaccia with Sonny, who went through the foundation’s flagship programme, Fresh Life, she listened keenly. Sonny was only 16 when he thought he might be going to jail: he had twice been caught carrying a knife. Raised by a single mother in Bethnal Green, he had fallen in with the wrong crowd. “Without Brigade,” Sonny told me, “I’d be banged up.” He is 17 and a different person to the boy who walked through the doors of the restaurant on Tooley Street this year. “I used to have my hands in my pockets, looking down and not taking in anything that was said,” he said.

Marchioness of Bath model Emma Thynn
ES Composite

Sonny did not grow up in a family that met around meals, yet at Brigade he found somewhere he could thrive. The experience has not only inspired a love of cooking, but also a desire to better himself. He speaks more openly and makes friends easily, joining a group of 8,000 people whose lives have been transformed by Beyond Food. “He has this love and this joy that makes him shine,” the Marchioness said. “It’s incredible that he’s achieved what he has so quickly.”

Beyond Food was founded in 2006 by chef Simon Boyle, 51, who was returning from Sri Lanka in the wake of the tsunami. There, he’d started a relief camp for people whose homes were destroyed. Coming back to Britain, he wanted to do something about the displacement he saw on the streets. “I got passionate about homelessness,” he said. “I got frustrated not only with the idea that people become homeless, but often stay so.”

Beyond Food
Sonny with Brigade CEO and chef founder, Simon Boyle
Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

For years now, Beyond Food has turned its focus to those leaving prison, whose career and housing prospects are bleak. Only 17 per cent of ex-offenders manage to get a job within a year of release and around a third of those about to leave prison say they have nowhere to stay. The winter months are especially tough.

Jo, who works for the charity, said: “One of our recent beneficiaries was living in a tent because they couldn’t pay rent and energy bills.”

Emma Thynn at Beyond Food
Emma Thynn, Marchioness of Bath, baking focaccia bread at Beyond Food with young trainee chef Sonny and CEO and chef founder of Brigade Bar & Kitchen
Daniel Hambury/Stella Pictures Ltd

Brigade has thrown many a lifeline, offering sanctuary for those out in the cold and keen to bond over a shared love of food. “It’s like a family,” Simon said. He recalled accompanying Sonny to his trial and pleading with the judge to see how far the teenager had come and let him go. She agreed. Sonny has finished his programme but, like many, chose to stay at Brigade, where he is working alongside new recruits. One of them, George, did time for dealing drugs. The 32-year-old had worked in restaurants before, but said he’d found at Brigade a spirit of camaraderie like nowhere else. “It’s only been two weeks,” he said, “and already I’ve made great friends.”

George’s colleague Martha said she had always struggled to hold down a job. Beyond Food had given her purpose, she said. Sonny said: “You feel like you’re part of something bigger. When you get to teach others what you’ve learned, be part of that chain reaction, it’s amazing.” The Marchioness said: “It’s amazing to see him running the show and teaching at such a young age.”

*Some names have been changed.

How you can help

£10 could provide a nourishing meal for a Londoner every day for a month

£20 could provide a duvet and pillow to a young person helping them sleep at night

£50 could contribute to a new school uniform for a child fleeing with a parent from an abusive relationship

£100 could provide 400 meals for families at a local community centre

£300 could pay for all that’s needed by a family expecting a baby, including new cot, mattress and pram

£1,750 could get a truck packed with enough food for 7,000 meal

In a nutshell

We have partnered with Comic Relief to launch our Winter Survival Appeal Christmas Campaign, with Comic Relief pledging £500,000 to kick off our fund. The money we raise will help fund charities in London and across the country helping people who are struggling with the cost of living crisis