Sinead Browne is the founder of Compliments of the House – a registered food redistribution charity that collects fresh, surplus cooked food from local restaurants and shares it with people in need at selected hubs across London.
Sinead was homeless after growing up in foster care before receiving a scholarship to train as a lawyer. Two years ago, she launched the charity to provide high-quality food leftover from restaurants which otherwise would go to waste. After Covid-19 forced their communal hub to close, Sinead decided to temporarily transform the charity into a delivery service, with groceries bought from supermarkets, in order to still provide support for those who are vulnerable and self-isolating. We chatted to Sinead about cooked food wastage, the detrimental effect covid-19 has had on our economy and ways people can help:
What inspired you to start Compliments of The House?
I founded Compliments of The House because I believe in justice, compassion, altruism and trying to do the right thing. As someone who has been homeless and experienced food poverty and hunger, I have firsthand experience of the daily struggles experienced by those that use our service which drives my ambition to support others in similarly difficult situations. Our logo is a deconstructed house and we call those that use our service guests as we view our hubs as safe spaces that people can visit to be nourished not just physically but mentally and holistically.
Can you talk to us about cooked food wastage and why is it a problem?
It is an underutilised and untapped food resource that can help to nourish and feed so many people. I think people view cooked food as ‘already used’ meaning that if it isn’t purchased by the end of the day then it should be discarded which has always confused me. Food banks do an amazing job but not everyone has access to cooking facilities so by redistributing cooked food it affords people with delicious and nutritious food that they wouldn’t otherwise have access to. Soup kitchens offer a very needed service too but I don’t see the need in cooking more food when there is already so much cooked food ready to go to those in need.
What do Compliments of The House see as a solution to the cooked food wastage problem?
Organisations like ours who redistribute food to those in need can make a real difference in the amount of food going to waste and inevitably landfill. If the government made it easier for restaurants to donate and for organisations to collect and redistribute, the food then the issue of food waste would slowly but surely be eradicated. However, until then many organisations are put off from dealing with surplus cooked food due to the lack of guidance and guidelines around handling and redistributing it.
Covid-19 has really highlighted how homelessness can happen to anyone, yet there’s still negative connotations attached to the word charity – why do you think that is?
I believe people view charity as a hand out rather than a hand up which is why it still has such a stigma attached to it. Many people who seek and accept help are in a transitional period in their lives and are working towards bettering and changing their circumstances. It is my personal belief that charities are simply there to help them be in a better position to help themselves.
Thankfully, this pandemic has really demonstrated to people that anyone in any circumstance can suddenly experience homelessness, financial hardship and food poverty and food insecurity as often our financial capabilities are out of our control. The demographic of those seeking our help has always been varied but it really has changed since the pandemic has caused such devastation to our economy and caused so many people to lose their jobs. We’ve had freelancers and the self-employed who have had to meet very stringent tests in order to access grants during the pandemic, high earners without savings due to the high cost of living in London and homeowners at risk of losing their homes due to losing their jobs, now seek our support. We just don’t know what is going on behind closed doors which is why hidden hunger and hidden food poverty is such an issue.
You’re on a mission to make charity sexy, what are some of the problems facing charity today?
The informal definition of sexy is for something to be very exciting or appealing and charity is just that. From spinning food redistribution on its head, to taking portable showers to those in need on the streets and building homes for the homeless out of shipping containers (check out Help Bristol’s Homeless Charity). Each generation learns from those before them and takes the experiences they have lived through themselves, the technology and new resources available to them and form new and innovative ways of doing things and Charity is no different. Our office is on an open plan floor with loads of cool and funky charities led by a real mix of people but I am proud to say that a lot of them are millennials. We are a bunch of young, innovative and fun individuals trying to make a difference; we aren’t formal and we aren’t sterile, but our impact is big.
As more and more people feel the economic pinch they will be quite rightly inclined to make cutbacks to try and make savings where they can. However, research shows that charity donations are often the first direct debits to be cancelled and hopefully this will start to change as people have seen firsthand how our Government has left charities to pick up the slack during the pandemic and has left us to feed children and those in need.
You say that charity work should be an essential part of our lives all year round, why and how can we do this?
When thinking of charities and volunteering, people tend to think of Battersea Dogs Home (I spent years trying to get on their volunteer waiting list as I really value their work) or the charity shop on their local high street where they feel they may not quite fit in but they are only two types of volunteering. There really is a volunteering role for everyone and we all have a skill that we can share; from befriending, to fixing tech, to growing plants and veg in your community or to building a website for a charity with little to no income.
Instead of seeing it as a chore it should be incorporated into our lives just as we incorporate catching up with friends for brunch, seeing family or developing a new hobby. Charity work is not only a way to give back but a way to expand your network and make new friends.
What can people do beyond volunteering?
They can look beyond themselves and try to educate themselves on the issues that so many people living below the breadline face. They can also take the time to share their knowledge with their loved ones and those around them, and they can lobby their local councillors and MPs to advocate for solutions to hidden hunger and food poverty.
How many restaurants have signed up to Compliments of The House to date and how easy is it for restaurants to get involved? What is the process?
We’ve had around 40 restaurants sign up to date and that’s largely thanks to how simple we’ve made the sign up process.
I understand that business owners are really busy so wanted to make the process of their signing up with us as uncomplicated as possible: it all starts with a call or email. A meeting is then set up to explain how it all works and what our commitment would be to them and theirs to us and our guests, to discuss liability and to share our contracts with them. Should they want to sign up with us they then chose the days and times they would like to donate and then a start date is picked. It really is as simple as that.
What can people do to support Compliments of The House?
They can follow us on social media, like and repost our posts to help raise awareness around what we do. They can also donate with a one of donation via our JustGiving page or they can sign up to donate monthly via our website starting at £5. They can also get in touch if they would like to volunteer by sending a message on one of our social media channels or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Restaurants and businesses can also get in touch if they would like to donate food or supplies. We would also like to hear from those with spaces that we could use to set up a hub. We are always looking to set up pop-up spaces to test the need for our services in new areas.
And finally, what’s next for Compliments of The House?
Life is so fluid at the moment and we are doing our best to stay flexible and reactive to whatever 2020 throws at us. This year has seen us close our hub and instead become a delivery service that now owns two vans that delivers food to those in need. Our plans for 2020 have been somewhat dashed but we are enjoying the journey so far as it has taught us how diverse we can be in delivering our vision and purpose. In the near future we would like to open a few more hubs across London and then eventually across the UK. We intend to be the Tesco Express for those in need.