Few people are less obliged to serve their community than MPs but, with the help of YMCA North Staffordshire, the MPs of Stoke took that to a whole new level this month.
For the last 18 months, YMCA North Staffs has been host to the community meal, a place where everyone can get together on the first Friday of every month.
They’ve had lots of local groups volunteer to cook the three-dish meal, from Staffordshire University, Emma Bridgewater and the first service.
However, this time it was the turn of the MPs.
Complete with hairnets.
Ruth Smeeth, MP for Stoke North and Rob Flello, MP for Stoke South, even enjoyed some rivalry in the kitchen.
However, MP for Stoke Central Tristram Hunt claimed that there was no competitiveness.
“For there to be rivalry you have to have an element of competition but all I saw was a while splodge thing and then an incredibly well honed cake with custard,: he said.
He must have been referring to his lemon drizzle cake, the dish he was in charge on, which accompanying reporter Joe confirmed was very good.
Ruth cooked up a chicken broth and Rob stirred up broccoli pasta.
“When you’re boiling up three and a half kilos of pasta, six litres of milk and four kilos of cheese everything goes a bit mad. It was good fun,” said Rob.
The meals are open to everyone and try to be as inclusive as possible with two main courses – vegetarian and non-vegetarian – and a dessert offered at every event.
Alongside the food, local groups such as Wavemaker join to raise awareness of the support they can offer as well as YMCA residents selling handmade gifts.
The 30 people that the event started with, has now turned into hundreds, making sure that locals in need are having a hot meal without worrying how to pay for it, or even worrying about the washing up.
“It started out as different teams through the organisation cooking for the staff and within three months we started to invite in external people and it’s grown organically,” said YMCA community manager Nicky Twemlow.
“We’re now fully booked until August next year.
“We have the refugee community join us. We have the neighbours, the young people from the YMCA, the police force and fire brigade. They all come for the food.”
The people who attend the meals realise that community and food is what it’s all about and what brings people together.
“Food is love,” said Mrs Smeeth. “Food is also family so the community meal means that everyone can come together as family and know they’re not alone.”
Seeing people in a more relaxed environment has actually brought along it’s own benefits. Not only are they guaranteed a hot meal that day, but they are coming to the attention of the groups who may be able to help them.
“People come and see me when they’re really struggling so it’s touching to see them getting help outside of the practical stuff that I can do and that they’re not just sitting at home,” said Mrs Smeeth.
“It just reinforces why I do what I do,” said Mr Flello.
“I get people stopping me in shops about the issues that matter to them and the suit is just a barrier so to do something outside of that is just fantastic.”
The YMCA community meal is open on the first Friday of every month at their campus in Harding Street, Stoke-on-Trent, from 12-1.30pm, with everybody welcome.