120 kilos of mashed potato a week: how Pembroke College and Oxford City Council teamed up to provide 15,000 meals for homeless people

Published: Thursday, 21st May 2020

Since teaming up at the start of April, Pembroke College and Oxford City Council have provided more than 15,000 meals for formerly homeless people in Oxford.

The council secured 121 rooms in hotels and student accommodation following a government direction on 26 March to house people who were sleeping rough and in shared hostel spaces. Pembroke’s catering team has been supplying breakfast and two hot meals a day to help them self-isolate safely since 4 April.

Providing meals for around 120 people in five different locations presents logistical challenges for both catering team and the council, which delivers the food and essential items twice daily.

An eight-strong team of council and ODS staff collects from Pembroke to deliver hot lunches and dinners, with cold breakfast packs included in the second delivery. During Ramadan, the council has also been making later evening deliveries for around 10 people observing the fast.

Getting the right food to the right people at the right time is not just about religious observance. Pembroke is catering for a wide variety of other dietary requirements while dealing with difficulties finding supplies during lockdown and managing social distancing – for example, only four staff can be on duty in the kitchen at any one time.

“Our job is almost unrecognisable to the one we were all doing just a few short weeks ago, and it has taken some getting used to. We have met the challenge of social distancing well and have had to change the way we order food and goods as not all of our suppliers deliver five days a week at the moment.

“We are trying to keep all of our suppliers as local as possible, although we have faced a challenge in sourcing stock in the current quantities now. For example, we are using 1,750 packs of cereal, 840 one-pint UHT milk cartons, 120 kilos of mashed potatoes and 2,000 disposable knives, forks and spoons every week.

“We have had feedback from some of the homeless people that have received our meals and some have said this has been the highlight of their day and they look forward to the meals arriving.

“The challenge that we are all undertaking has been one of the most difficult I have tackled but certainly by far the most rewarding. All of the chefs and members of the catering team that have been part of this chapter in Pembroke's long history are just bursting with pride. Not once have I seen anything but a gleaming smile across every single colleague’s face. Up and down the country people from every walk of life have pulled together and achieved so much. Pembroke has allowed us this opportunity to play our part.”

Pembroke head chef, Chris Allnutt

“It takes more than a roof to end homelessness and I’m very grateful for the hard work done by Pembroke College, council and ODS staff to meet the needs of people who had experienced rough sleeping or were still on the streets when we went into lockdown. Providing the right three meals every day to 120 people across five locations is a complex challenge and one that everyone involved in this initiative has risen to admirably.”

Councillor Mike Rowley, cabinet member for affordable housing and housing the homeless

“Everyone in college is immensely proud of our catering team who are once again putting in extra effort to show the meaning of being a caring community.”

Dame Lynne Brindley, master of Pembroke College