Lads' Lunch Volunteers

  • To find out more about Lads’ Lunch, Chepstow Food Bank, or Bridge Church email communitykitchen@thebridgechurchonline; or just walk in on a Thursday lunchtime at Unit 1A Critchcraft Buildings, Bulwark, Chepstow, NP16 5QZ.

In 2023 Monmouthshire Food Partnership ran a community grants scheme open to third-sector organisations, community groups and social enterprises who are contributing to Monmouthshire’s good food movement. In this series of articles we are visiting some of the successful applicants to find out how they used their grants and what is happending now. Today we are with the Bridge Church in Chepstow for their Lads’ Lunch.

Lads’ Lunch runs from 12:00 to 14:00 every Thursday at the Bridge Church in Bulwark, Chepstow. Anyone can walk in for a free hot lunch and a chat with the volunteers and the other men who have come along. When we arrive there are about 10 chaps of all ages enjoying a summer special of hot dogs with fries, onions and coleslaw. On other days they might have stew or curry – and there is always a tin of baked beans or spaghetti hoops around if someone fancies something a bit lighter. The room is warm and friendly, despite the chilly day outside. Rachel, who runs Lad’s Lunch, welcomes us in with a cup of tea. She is bright and vivacious, dressed in comfy jeans and a jumper with zingy yellow finger-nails. As we have our cuppa, she tells us about how the project got started.

The Bridge Church is also the home of Chepstow Food Bank, and as Covid restrictions eased the volunteers felt moved to help build a companionable food community for the people of Bulwark and Thornwell. Rachel describes walking the streets waiting for inspiration to tell her just what they should do. She saw lots of men of on their own as she walked, many of whom appeared to be of working age out and about during the day. She also noticed that the community already offered quite a lot of support for women, parents, and older people – but men seemed to be left out. This fitted with national data that suggested men’s services were being cut, which was affecting men’s well-being in all kinds of ways; at the same time, Chepstow Food Bank was seeing increasing numbers of single men coming through their doors.

So Rachel had her inspiration: why not build a local community specially for men? A friendly, welcoming environment where blokes can have a little time to themselves, have some food, meet people, have a chat with friends, and feel part of something? Lads’ Lunch was born. Since it started in 2022 it has gone from strength to strength: there are now about 14 volunteers, some of whom got involved after going in to eat lunch themselves. Rachel and her team also link up with other organisations that offer confidential advice on tricky issues like claiming benefits, managing debt, or job-hunting. There’s nearly always someone helpful on hand at a Lads’ Lunch session.

What did Lads’ Lunch do with their grant? Well, first they had some banners and fliers printed to help tell people about Lads’ Lunch. These obviously worked well as new faces have come in saying they had seen the new publicity. The volunteers also bought some better equipment, and a special labelling machine. The label maker means they can give people leftover food to take home – it prints allergens, and use-by-date. This is essential for anyone giving out food for people to take home, as it helps to keep everyone safe. The Church has a five-star food hygiene rating, and they clearly take their responsibilities very seriously.

Chatting with the volunteers, it is clear that they really love what they do. As volunteer Jan says:

“It is always more than just food.”

Lads’ Lunch is about being part of a community and giving a helping hand, in exchange for times when other people have held out a hand to you. We all need that sometimes. As we left, we felt deeply touched by their quiet dedication and service to their community. As the author George Eliot wrote in her great novel Middlemarch:

“the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half-owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life.”