Next Meal’s charity launch at the House of Commons
- Credit: David Kangas (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Soup kitchen volunteers, MPs, commercial backers and star comedians Sean Lock and Harry Hill gathered for a launch party at the House of Commons for the charity Next Meal.
The event on Thursday at the Houses of Parliament was also attended by health experts, police, academics and sports stars.
Next Meal is a digital platform that harnesses technology to help the street homeless and socially vulnerable to access food and support from nearby centres.
It was created by Martin Stone and a group of volunteers at a soup kitchen in London's Muswell Hill.
Using a phone's GPS, the nextmeal.co.uk site identifies the user's location and lists the nearest charities that provide food and support for the hungry and homeless.
Speakers at the launch included Labour MP for Hornsey and Wood Green Catherine West, who has supported Next Meal since its inception in her constituency, and Conservative Adam Holloway, MP for Gravesham, who referenced his own experience of homelessness and how it is a waste of individual lives and has a knock-on effect for whole communities
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Asked why he supports Next Meal, comedian Sean Lock told this newspaper: "Purely because the guy who organises it, runs it, created it, lives on my street.
"I got chatting to him and he said he ran the soup kitchen in Muswell Hill and I said: 'Yeah, yeah, I'll come down there sometime.'
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"Eventually I did and I think while he was looking at my washing up he commented that 'there are other ways you can help us'.
"So I helped launch the website, Next Meal, which is what this is about."
He described Martin, who runs the soup kitchen with help from others, as a very committed man.
"He's very unassuming but driven character," he said, "which is what, I think, we need more of.
"He gets things done and this Next Meal website is all over the country - it's in Paris and Barcelona - and it's an incredible feat just by him just getting some people together who felt that something should be done about begging and homelessness.
"People didn't really understand the relationship between them and the people they were giving money to.
"I think his really strong point is 'don't give money to the homeless' because nine times out of 10 it ends up in the hands of drug dealers.
"It's quite a strong, harsh message but he's got the authority to deliver it because he's worked in that sector for 20 years.
"He says there is help out there and the idea of Next Meal is it puts both the person who's begging and the person they're encountering with an alternative solution.
"Rather than just giving them money and getting rid of that guilt, you go: 'Well, there's next meal. Do you know about Next Meal?'"
Other speakers included Inspector Simon Arliss from Exeter and Sir David Sloman, NHS regional director for London, who highlighted that homeless people stay three time as long in hospital as others and they only live on average to 47 years.
Lyndsey Withers and Hilary Knight from Plymouth Soup Kitchen spoke about how food poverty and food insecurity were increasing.
Martin Stone said: "There has been such a positive response to the launch of Next Meal we are excited about the future.
"The evening generated so much good will as well as some brilliant ideas which we now want to make happen."