Highgate lunch clubs serve up cheap grub in fight against elderly isolation and rising fuel bills
It is one of the most affluent areas in London and celebrities like Kate Moss and Jude Law call it home. But Highgate is also one of only a few places to have as many as three lunch clubs providing inexpensive hot food to anyone who needs it.
One after another, these gatherings were launched at Jacksons Lane arts centre in Archway Road; Highgate Newtown Community Centre (HNCC) in Bertram Street and St Anne’s Church in Highgate West Hill, to meet an ever-rising need in the fight against isolation among older people as well as costly food and fuel bills.
The club at St Anne’s is run by Linda Treherne and her daughter Michelle West, who worked for HNCC for two years before moving kitchens to the church, and alongside a slap-up meal, visitors are offered advice on any problems they may be facing.
Mrs Treherne wants to make people more aware of the clubs so those in need know there is somewhere warm they can talk to others about their problems and eat a good meal once or twice a week.
“There’s a lot of people out there [at the lunches], but we need to reach more people,” she said.
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According to Ms West, many older people who visit the club are forced to choose “between paying for fuel, their rent and food”.
The club began in October in partnership with HNCC offering a two or three course meal for just £1 on Tuesdays and £2.50 on Wednesdays.
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It started shortly after the closure of one at Holly Lodge Community Centre’s following a round of Camden Council funding cuts.
Among the visitors last Wednesday was Kentish Town resident John Compton, who is only 58, but says he can’t get a job because he suffers from mental health problems and that “I am on benefits, but I don’t need to come,” he said.
“You get to know a few older people, give them chat so they don’t feel isolated and that. It kills a bit of time, because I’m not doing anything.”
Mr Compton admits he has a gambling problem, spending nearly all his money on slot machines each month, and eats poorly when at home.
“If I looked after my own money I’d be able to eat really comfortably but we’ve all got our own problems. I gamble all my money away. Been doing it 26 years.
“I don’t have a cooker as it’s dangerous for me because I forget I’ve got things in there. I’ve nearly had three fires in the 18 years I’ve lived in my flat.
“But I’ve got a microwave, so I just buy some cheap, £1 meals from Iceland. It’s not good for you, it’s just sugar, salt and fat. Keeps the wolf from the door but they’re not really appetising.”
Despite Highgate’s wealthy reputation, these lunch clubs are becoming increasingly popular, drawing in dozens of diners at every event.
At Jacksons Lane, volunteers have been serving up a two-course meal with tea, coffee and entertainment for £5 once a month since September 2012.
Rather fittingly for an arts venue, it hosts a glamorous affair, often bringing in West End stars to perform or getting diners to take part in art workshops.
This month musical performer Irene Forrester, who has starred in The Lion King and Hairspray, serenaded diners while actress Carolyn Pickles, who appeared in hit ITV drama Broadchurch, did a comic reading of The 12 Days of Christmas.
HNCC offers people a £1 two-course lunch every Tuesday and Friday from its community cafe and provides board games for diners to play after they’ve tucked into their hot meal.
The club usually attracts around 40 people at every session but pulled in about 100 at the last lunch before the festive break.
Andrew Sanalitro, director of HNCC, said the centre launched its lunch club in response to the “greater need to support the elderly and those living in temporary housing”.
He added: “People have had their benefits cut off and people are becoming unstuck.
“I’ve also encountered people with lots of money and then more often it’s about loneliness.
‘‘The lunches are a good way to meet other people and now groups are coming in and it feels like the social element is building up.
“I think people feel stuck in their flats or houses and they just want to be with other people, sitting at a table with someone on the other side. We take that for granted but for them, it’s a luxury.”
Back at St Anne’s last week, diners praised the ability of the pair behind the club to bring people together.
Dr Roy Batt, 76, a retired veterinary surgeon of St Albans Road, Dartmouth Park, said: “Quite often I don’t know people, but it warms up. Lynda and Michelle are so friendly that it breaks the ice.”
Janet Bevington, 63, of Magdala Avenue, Archway, said: “It’s very reasonable. By the time you buy all this stuff and cook it, it’d cost you a lot more.
“I think it’s a good idea for people, especially older people on their own. It saves me cooking in the evening.”