A innovative voluntary scheme which hopes to feed 5,000 vulnerable and homeless people in a year is set to launch in Norwich tonight .

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FoodCycle Norwich, part of a national drive to tackle food poverty, has piloted a scheme which has been providing up to 100 people in Norwich a week with wholesome, healthy free food and caring company since January as part of a community cafe.

Since the pilot was launched at the start of the year food shops in the city donate end of life, but not out of date, food to a team of volunteers at the end of the week.

The assorted groceries are then collected and taken to a team of volunteer chefs who, like on the hit BBC show Ready, Steady Cook, have a short amount of time to prepare a meal from the contents to be served to between 80 and 100 vulnerable people. The project, which operates between 7pm and 9pm every Friday, has proved so successful it will be formally launched at the Friends Meeting House in the city’s Upper Goat Lane, at 7pm tonight.

Donald Timson, 39, who looks after the scheme’s volunteers, said: “We’ve piloted it since January 4 and have done 13 or 14 sessions feeding between 80 and 100 people - we’ve fed at least 1,000 in three months. We’re not looking at feeding the 5,000 overnight but in 12 months we will have fed 5,000.”

Mr Timson is one of about eight project leaders involved in the scheme which requires between 20 and 30 volunteers every week to collect the food, cook the food, welcome guests, serve food and drinks and clear up.

He said: “Volunteers go and pick up goods on bicycles. They cycle it to the Friends Meeting House to the kitchen volunteers. We have a head chef, who is experienced, and about five or six volunteers.

“They don’t know what’s on the menu until it turns up so they have to be inventive with the food and they do really well - they work miracles. There’s another team of volunteers greeting and serving non-alcoholic drinks.”

Mr Timson, who was formerly homeless himself, initially raised concern about the number of people who were on the streets at night at a meeting of the City Centre Safer Neighbourhood Team meeting in November last year.

Since then the SNT has adopted the issue as one of its priorities and PCSOs now provide a presence at events as well as help promote it to people on the streets.

Julian Foster, chairman of the city centre’s Safer Neighbourhood Action Panel (SNAP) and of the Central Norwich Citizens’ Forum, said he “totally supported” the initiative and would help in any way he, the SNAP team or his forum could.

He said the FoodCycle project had helped identify a gap in provision for vulnerable or homeless people that no-one had realised was there.

The scheme is looking for volunteers, supporters, fundraisers and a bigger venue in Norwich city centre to operate from.

For more information call Don on 07583921989, email don@foodcycle.or.uk or www.groupspaces.com/foodcyclenorwich/item/139324 or alternatively www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=344952755085

Do you have a story about an innovative community project? Call reporter Peter Walsh on 01603 772436 or email peter.walsh@archant.co,uk

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