Work Hard

Sunday sit-down with… Jackie Boardman, The People’s Kitchen

Trustee, team leader and cook Jackie shares why it’s now more important than ever to support those living on the streets.

Written by Rachael Nichol
Published 10.12.2021

Feeling alone, lost and broken, homeless people suffer on the streets every day.

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the hustle and bustle of our own everyday lives that we walk past, quickly judging and never giving them a second thought.

But not Jackie Boardman. Whilst working in Manchester, she got to know the people she passed on her commute who were living on the streets as they shared their life stories, and those experiences inspired her to help them.

After moving to Newcastle and volunteering as a trustee, team leader and cook at The People’s Kitchen – which has supported homeless people since 1985 – Jackie and other selfless volunteers cook three-course meals for 300 people from scratch, every day.

Now, as the cold winter months are upon us, we thought we’d catch up with Jackie to find out why it’s now more important than ever to support those living on Newcastle’s streets.

What made you want to get into this line of work?

I love food: cooking it, reading about it and eating it. Cooking in a kitchen is something that I wanted to do for a while. When I was in Manchester, where the number of people sleeping rough is extremely high, I learnt a lot about those people’s lives and struggles by talking to them daily.

When I was looking to volunteer, The People’s Kitchen felt like a good fit, as it’s a long-standing charity with an excellent reputation. It’s a place where people aren’t judged and it’s run entirely by volunteers, 365 days a year. I’m so proud of our team.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

I volunteer on a Wednesday as a cook and team leader. I arrive at The People’s Kitchen around 10am, where I review the menu for the day and then allocate the jobs to the volunteers. We cook a three-course meal for 300 people every day, all from scratch, so there’s a lot of peeling and chopping to be done. We plan every meal to ensure its nutritious and packed with vegetables.

At 6.30pm, we open the doors and serve the meal to sit in or as a takeaway for people who prefer to go home. At this time, I could be helping someone collect a clothes parcel, dealing with a friend struggling with their mental health or simply sitting having a chat with someone who may not have spoken to anyone all day.

As a trustee, I look at the longer-term goals of the charity by working with partners to see how we can improve the lives of vulnerable and homeless people in Newcastle. I bring agencies into The People’s Kitchen, support the fundraising and governance of the charity.

How do you support people living on the streets?

We make life on the streets a little easier by sharing hot meals and clothing packages, toiletries, food, mobile phones and sleeping bags. We work with services to enable people to move off the streets and then we provide food, furniture, electrical items and bedding to our friends when they move into their first home.

The People’s Kitchen is much more than food. The meal they have with us could be the only meal they have in a day and many of our friends need to choose between food or paying bills. They often have no support system around them and can have addictions or suffer from their mental health.

We are a safe haven for our friends whose lives can be very chaotic. We have a library where our friends can take books, colouring, art or puzzle books. They can have a hot shower, watch some TV, use the WIFI and take a flask to have a hot drink at home. We also offer friendship calls during the day to help with loneliness and professional services to improve mental wellbeing. Most of all, we offer friendship.

How has the pandemic impacted your work?

We’ve seen an increase in the number of friends using the Kitchen and we have also had some of our long-standing volunteers retire. We’re welcoming over 200 people every night and serving over 300 meals now, compared to around 120 before lockdown.

 

What’s winter like for people living on the streets?

The winter months can be incredibly challenging for our friends. They tell us rain is one of the worst things, as their clothes and belongings get soaked and they can’t dry them out. So, we replace clothes and sleeping bags. We also work with Newcastle Council and housing agencies to help our friends connect and enable them to be placed into accommodation.

 

How do you make Christmas a bit better for the people you support?

Christmas is often a tough time for our friends, so we’re there to help see them through it. We start on the 1st December with an advent and our friends receive a small gift each day. We have a Christmas party at the start of December, with street food vans, music and Santa and we turn on the Christmas lights.

We provide a food hamper for those wanting to have Christmas at home, children’s gifts for any of our friends with children and, on Christmas Day, a lovely lunch is served by our volunteers. We also have a New Year’s Eve party. The most important thing is that we’re there every day over the Christmas period, when other services are closed.

What can we do to help support your charity?

You could donate to our Feed a Friend campaign, or you could choose to volunteer or fundraise for us. Donating £5 to Feed a Friend is much more than a three-course meal – it helps us provide a warm place to eat on a cold day, with a friendly face when our friends are lonely. It enables our friends to have a warm shower and clean, dry clothes. It’s a £5 gift of love.

We have volunteer vacancies for our evening teams, administration, clothing, IT, HR and recruitment, welfare and communications. If you can’t do a regular shift, then you can get involved with fundraising or collections of food/toiletries.

 

If you would like to donate to the Feed a Friend for a Fiver campaign, follow this link.

If you would like more information about The People’s Kitchen’s work or if you know someone who could benefit from their support, visit their website.

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