Christine Ellis-Malik is founder and chair of Better Eat Food Service. We chatted to her about the great work her team is doing to support the local community

I originally set up Better Eat Food Service to do catering at a sheltered housing scheme. When the pandemic hit, I put that on hold and started running food-based services from my own kitchen, including emergency food parcels and pop-up stalls to distribute surplus food to those in need in the community. In May 2020, we decided to become a community interest company (CIC) — a special type of company set up to benefit the community rather than private shareholders. Now we’ve set up in Rockwell Community Centre, Bradford, so I’ve got my kitchen back!

We run all sorts of projects. It’s been a case of whatever fits at the time. One initiative we ran was called a ‘bus stop shop’, where we gave out food parcels from a bus stop – all we needed was shelter if it rained and some space, so it did the job. We now have a list of around 350 beneficiaries, and we recently gave out afternoon tea boxes to 200 over-50s who were potentially isolated.

Our main aim is to bring communities together through food. We take donations of surplus food from Co-op and other supermarkets, which would otherwise go to waste. Co-op has been brilliant in supporting us with this. We know people at the store by name and they’re fantastic. 

We know that food brings people together socially, so that’s what the focus is on

Christine is really proud of the team, which includes kitchen supervisor Dawn Perrott (above left) and kitchen assistant Usman Malik (above right)

We use the food donations to cook dishes at the Centre and we have a menu. The dishes are sold for a price that people feel they can afford. We don’t judge whether someone can afford something or not. It’s ‘pay-as-you-feel’ and we’re prepared to take nothing. We know food brings people together socially, so that’s what the focus is on. We’ve had people who came to us initially to access the food, and then after a while they decided to become one of our volunteers, which really helps their confidence.  

We also offer training for people who want to upskill. We’re advertising for a KickStart work placement at the moment, to find a young person to work with us in the kitchen, who we can develop and help to learn skills like how to write their CV. It was volunteering and helping at a local community centre that first enabled me to build my confidence.

When I look at how far we’ve come as a team, I think it’s quite amazing what can be achieved. We’re really growing now as an enterprise. We have a management team, and we can employ people and train them. If I can’t do something and I’m struggling with it, I always try to think ‘Right, what can I do?’ and then build on that. 

Find out more about Better Eat Food Service CIC at co-operate.coop.co.uk/groups/better-eat-food-service-cic