Over the past few years the Old Abbey Taphouse in Hulme, supported by a number of community groups, has been delivering free meals to local residents in need. The Hulme branch of the Tenants Union has now agreed to support this vital work, and here we publish an interview with one of the coordinators of the service - Tom Crosher.
With autumn arriving and a difficult winter around the corner, services like this will be more important than ever. We urge our members and supporters to give time to this vital project, if they can. You can sign up to volunteer on this project here.
What is TV Dinners, and how did it come about?
TV Dinners is a community-led meals on wheels service for people who need it in Hulme. Every Tuesday, The Old Abbey Taphouse pub gets ingredients from Fareshare, they turn those ingredients into delicious meals in their kitchen, then our volunteers head out on bikes, in cars and on foot across Hulme and beyond to deliver it right to people's doors. We've been running this scheme since the start of the pandemic as a way to get food to people who needed these meals for whatever reason, whether that was due to having to isolate, losing their job or being unable to cook for themselves.
Since then, thanks to a lot of schemes, favours, hard work and our absolutely tireless volunteers, we've been able to keep the service running on a completely free basis, still delivering every single week.
What has the response been from residents - is it popular?
The one thing I say to any new delivery volunteer is there is no better feeling than seeing the smile on someone's face as you drop off a hot, free meal at their door. People in Hulme love Taphouse TV Dinners, and we regularly get neighbours of those receiving meals poking their heads round the door to ask if they can join too.
With energy bills and food costs skyrocketing, why do you think this is such a vital service?
Beyond the obvious fact that we're facing down a winter where people aren't going to be able to afford to turn their oven on, Taphouse TV Dinners acts as a support point for people who might be struggling. Many of our volunteers will have a quick chat at the door when they're dropping off their deliveries and through these chats you end up making friends, finding out about each other's lives and most importantly finding out if there's anything to be concerned about. One of our volunteers recently looked after a resident's dog while he went into the hospital - something that would never have happened without TV Dinners. These connections are going to be incredibly important as we go through this crisis, acting as a link to the community or a link to support networks for people who may not be able to access these through traditional channels.
Do you think community solidarity like this can be the basis for wider social change? What is the role of tenants unions in this?.
Absolutely - while we're all aware TV Dinners is fixing a problem that shouldn't exist, we're all also aware of the power of mutual aid within communities. Some of the people that get food deliveries will turn around and deliver themselves some weeks. We hold twice-yearly feasts where we sit down, cooks, deliverers and recipients, and share a meal with entertainment and chat; it brings people together who would otherwise have never met. And these connections are important - as your members will know one of the most important aspects of tenant organising is knowing who your neighbours are and knowing what shared problems you face.
How can people sign up to have their food delivered?
If you're in need of really tasty hot meals that cater to meat eaters, vegan, gluten free etc and live in the Hulme area or just outside of it you can sign up using this form.
What is the main thing you need support with now?
Our biggest bottleneck at the moment is volunteers for both our deliveries and our kitchen so if any of your members are reading this and have skills in a kitchen or about an hour free to do some deliveries on a Tuesday evening, please get in touch with me! Thanks to the endlessly helpful Chorlton Bike Deliveries group we're able to deliver a fairly consistent number of meals each week now, but every other volunteer we get means more meals delivered and more people fed.
We're also constantly on the lookout for Deliveroo-style delivery bags as these are (unsurprisingly) very useful for delivering our meals! If anyone has an old one gathering dust in their house please get in touch and I will come and pick it up!
Anything else you want to share?
I'd like to shout out every single person that's ever delivered a meal for TV Dinners or volunteered in our kitchen, especially our regulars. Through and after the pandemic, for almost 3 years now we've had a group of people who are willing to ride, drive and walk in any weather to get food to people who need it. We've delivered close to 5000 meals since we started and by my reckoning at least 3000 of those have been delivered by our small group of regulars, this service could not function without them and their enthusiasm, their dedication and the way they have made connections and friendships across the community has been an inspiration.
We're pushing for members and supporters to volunteer to support this vital solidarity project in Hulme. If you think you can spare some time, please fill in this form and one of our organisers will be in touch.