Catherine Solomons co-owns 28 Well Hung, a street food business and restaurant in Nunhead, with her husband Gary. After having to temporarily close the restaurant due to the COVID-19 crisis, here Catherine shares how they have been making use of the kitchen for NHS workers and what inspired her to launch a podcast:
“Me and my husband have lived in South London for nine years (four in Peckham and five in Nunhead) and, until fairly recently, we weren’t hugely connected to the local community. Working in food means that we work when others are socialising and it can be quite hard to find a way in. However, that all changed when we opened the restaurant on Nunhead Lane last September. We met loads of local people and, as most of our customers live within walking distance, we felt really plugged in.
“So, when lockdown began, and we had to close the restaurant just six months after opening, it was really sad. My one question to myself was: “how do you stay open when you’re closed?”
“A couple of weeks into the crisis, an opportunity came to us from the Nationwide Caterers Association (NCASS) who were working with a new charity, Meals for the NHS. The charity provides free meals to NHS staff who are often working around the clock to save lives, yet face canteens closing at 5pm, shut-off vending machines and limited access to food. Getting involved felt good to me. I had a kitchen that was going unused and, like other people in my sector, I love working and serving people.
“Getting nutritious food into hospitals to help keep staff healthy also felt important. I’m incredibly passionate about approaching farming and eating with nature and nutrition in mind and, although we’re a meat restaurant, our menu is 50% vegetarian and the meat that we serve is always pasture-raised.
“We also had to adapt what we cook to suit the needs of NHS staff. In the restaurant, we tend to serve things like steak and ribs - not very practical within a hospital setting - so we’ve been cooking different cuts including ox cheek, chuck and mince with a carb, like creamy mash, and seasonal greens. I’ve really enjoyed catering in this way as there’s possibly nowhere more important than in a hospital to have nutritious food supporting the immune system. Plus, the feedback we’ve received from NHS workers has been so wonderful.
“The way communities started self-organising from the beginning of lockdown, with creativity and generosity springing up quickly across the country, really struck a chord with me. It was also interesting to see the impact on the environment. With cities shutting down and pollution lifting, it’s like Mother Nature has been given a breather. These glimmers of hope in a terrible situation inspired my other lockdown project, the Giant Pause, which started off as a Facebook page to capture and share creative community-driven projects around the world.
“I decided to evolve the project into a podcast when I saw local personal trainer, Chris Marsh, put out that he could no longer work, but was instead offering free virtual fitness classes three times a week and an app. I thought it was a lovely thing to do and that I’d love to talk to him about it. At that point, I decided to create a platform for local businesses to share what they’re doing during lockdown, celebrating creativity and keeping us connected. I contacted Chris that morning and I was interviewing him by 12pm.
“Next, I got in touch with my friend, Grace Willow, an event organiser and dancer who also could no longer work due to the lockdown and was offering free virtual dance classes. By 6pm, I had interviewed her too. I then needed to learn how to make a podcast and, within five days, I had taught myself to edit, how to transcribe and what hosting platform to use.
“I became aware of Nunhead Knocks early in the crisis when Jasmine contacted me to see if they could use the restaurant’s window to promote the organisation. I said that I’d be delighted to help and, when we met at a social distance, she told me about how Claire Sheppard set-up Nunhead Knocks. I decided that Claire would be the perfect guest to launch the podcast and Jasmine kindly connected us. Talking to Claire was wonderful – she’s achieved so much and Nunhead Knocks is a truly exceptional example of community collaboration (listen to Claire’s Giant Pause interview here).
“Right now, it’s still unclear what reopening the restaurant is going to look like. We’re currently thinking about what we can offer in terms of a takeaway service or what it would mean for us if, for example, we were only allowed 25% capacity in the restaurant. We also want to continue fulfilling our commitment to the NHS.
“Working in food means I operate as part of a supply chain and what we plan needs to be considered hand-in-hand with suppliers and growers. Working in this way, always with nature in mind, has given me a heightened sense that everything is connected and the importance of collaboration. I love what happens when people come together and working as a collective can really draw out latent gifts in individuals. Whatever happens next, it’s important to stay connected – rebuilding is not something we can do alone.”
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