Husband and wife team in Bristol deliver 2,000 food boxes and cook thousands more meals for vulnerable people in lockdown
On Thursday, Tessa Lidstone, from Bristol, finished four months of preparing food boxes for care leavers. When the restaurant she owns with her chef husband, Elliot, closed in March, she soon embarked on a community project, working with charities and organisations such as FareShare and the Bristol Food Union to provide vulnerable people with food during the coronavirus pandemic.
Ms Lidstone said Bristol City Council identified around 100 people aged 18-24, some with young children, who were struggling since leaving care. Covid-19 only added to the pressures of life, so Tessa, with a sudden abundance of free time, set to work. She saw 2,000 boxes delivered in 17 weeks.
Tessa put together boxes full of food and started cook-a-long videos for families, helping young people cook efficient, nutritious meals at low cost. She said what started as emergency relief turned into a much wider project. Now finished, and her award-winning restaurant, Box-E, back up and running, she said she’s still hoping to continue her support in some way.
“The council identified people who needed help,” she told i. “There was a core group of 100 people which we sent food boxes to every week. The most important thing for me was consistent support – 17 weeks felt like it would make a positive impact over time.
“Businesses in Bristol, charities, and community group all helped. Donations were amazing and people have been incredibly kind. I started cook-a-long videos on Facebook so families could learn dishes, and started putting ingredients and recipes in boxes.
“We got lots of surplus food from supermarkets, businesses, and food brands. The support was huge. Places like Pieminster sent in pies, and we got noodles from Kabuto.
“This week, my last for now, I did ratatouille with garlic bread. It was about simple stuff like mac ‘n’ cheese, fishcakes, and bean fajitas.”
While the care leavers wanted to retain anonymity, many sent messages of thanks through the local council. One said: “The food hampers were great. During the pandemic, I felt incredibly vulnerable and isolated, as I don’t have the conventional support of family.
“The hampers really made me feel less isolated and recognised. I really enjoyed making the recipes. Thank you.”
Tessa is now back at Box-E running the floor, while Elliot cooks in the kitchen. The restaurant, a small site in a shipping container in Bristol’s buzzing Whapping Wharf, is one of the best places to eat in the South West, and is already fully booked until September. And yet Tessa and Elliot are not finished with their community efforts.
While Tessa was producing food boxes, Elliot was cooking daily meals for families in South Bristol. “He was working with the Square Food Foundation, cooking for 55 families, about 270 people every day.
“The project worked with local schools to continue to provide good food to people hit hard by the pandemic.”
Despite the fact Elliot is now back in the kitchen at Box-E, he’s still cooking for the families every Tuesday: “I don’t think things are going to get better any time soon. It’s only going to get worse, economically,” Tessa added.
“We’re happy to have our restaurant open again. We were fortunate our landlord, Stuart Hatton, the managing director of Umberslade (property company) suspended our rent while we were closed. And we don’t have to pay it back – it’s just completely written off. Without that, we wouldn’t have survived. We also secured a £10,000 grant to keep us afloat while we had no cash flow.
“We’re open on Fridays and Saturdays for now, but we’ll be bringing back more of our team off furlough soon. We’ve only got space inside for three tables right now, and six outside. We’re not sure what will happen in winter.”