Katie Cavanna: The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step

Plans for RE4form's community bus

Plans for RE4form's community bus - Credit: Archant

RE4orm is a community interest company established a year ago to provide a mobile community centre for families across Torbay.

After being awarded lottery funding to buy UB40's old tour bus, our team was geared up to renovate it into a mobile kitchen and library service which would serve vulnerable and isolated members of the community.

Having previously worked for 15 years in a liaison role between local schools and hard-to-reach families including the traveller community and refugee families, I was very aware of the difficulties and barriers faced by many people in our local community, especially young children.

Torbay is a hot spot for tourists to visit on holidays and the area heavily relies on the hospitality industry to provide jobs for the local people.

Having been top of the South West's deprivation list for some years now and with the hospitality industry locked down during the coronavirus crisis, families and individuals living here have been disproportionately affected.

Before the lockdown was announced, the team recognised that RE4orm needed to act quickly to provide families with a lifeline - and with food.

We set-up a Just Giving page with a target of raising £5K to provide meals and food parcels to those most in need across Torbay. The money rolled in – and so did the volunteers.

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RE4orm are doing two deliveries a week on a Tuesday and Friday, and are providing more than 800 meals and 800 food parcels across Torbay with the help of over 50 volunteers.

Our distribution unit, located in Torquay town centre, serves as the hub for Re4orm.

The volunteers keep in contact throughout the week using Messenger chat; collecting supplies, organising deliveries, liaising with the schools and restaurants and welcoming donations from local people and businesses.

With the support of local restaurants and cafes and vegetable-only ingredients provided by local greengrocers, healthy, nutritious and delicious meals are cooked, packed, labelled and distributed via local schools (teachers and staff) to their most-in-need pupils and their families every Tuesday and Friday. Friday night is takeaway night and families have a choice of Chinese or Indian food e.g. butternut squash and sweet potato curry!

With each delivery, families are also provided with basics such as bread, milk and fresh fruit.

We were waiting for National Lottery and grant funding to refurbish the coach but the Covid-19 crisis began and we had to work really quickly to support very vulnerable families in our community.

The model of buying fresh ingredients from local suppliers, using local restaurants and cafés to cook the meals and local schools to distribute them to the pupils and families, we know works incredibly well.

Teachers can keep in close contact with the children and families and we don't even need to know who they are.

The greengrocers and chefs have an income and the volunteers know they are doing really important work in our community.

Re4orm has started assembling hygiene packs to be distributed alongside the food deliveries with items such as shampoo, soap, toothpaste, nappies and sanitary products.

At Easter, chocolate Easter eggs were distributed with a toothbrush and toothpaste attached to each gift! Children's packs are currently being produced too with toys and books.

As for the coach, well it's currently parked-up at Paignton Zoo still awaiting its refurbishment.

We want to be able to use the mobile community centre with a fully working kitchen to show families how they can cook their own healthy meals.

Vegetable and lentil pasta costs only 50p a meal and we already know our families love it from the feedback we have had.

Our mobile community centre will be out in the community supporting families every day.

The target for the launch of the bus is the end of the year.

Wouldn't it be great to get an army of volunteers involved in a DIY SOS-style refurb!