Gravesend cafe aims to bring down law on food poverty

PUBLISHED: 11:21 02 July 2013 | UPDATED: 11:21 02 July 2013

Manager Terry Arthur with assistant Michelle Illingworth

Manager Terry Arthur with assistant Michelle Illingworth


Imagine a cafe which allows you to set your own prices. Well it's very much a reality in Gravesend as one socially-aware company has opened The Bench Cafe to try to tackle food poverty.

The cafe in King Street has been set up by the Communities Food Community Interest Company, along with some cash from the European Social Fund.

John Hopkinson is one of three directors and he says the main emphasis behind the project is “the lack of food or appropriate food for a lot of people in Kent”.

Opening in April, the cafe plans to take on 16 unemployed people by August who want to get jobs in catering.

They will take courses in food hygiene and customer service and, providing they pass, will be guaranteed at least a job interview at a restaurant at Bluewater shopping centre thanks to training provider The Learning Shop.

John said: “Unemployed people we take on will gain a useful qualification and it is a good way to get back into work.

“It will give them experience and confidence. Having been out of work for a while it will make them ready to be in the working world again.”

It is called The Bench Cafe because it is situated where an old courthouse used to stand – and the menu continues with the legal theme.

The Not Guilty Menu is due to come out some time this month and John says the cafe is prepared for people who want to “play the system”.

He said: “Some people will use it as an opportunity to get a really cheap meal. But all the products which will be on this menu will be food which was deemed not good enough to sell in supermarkets and shops – not because they’re out of date but because of damaged packaging or some other problem. We’ll have to pay a small admin charge but it’s minuscule compared to the cost price.”

The cafe’s manager, Gravesend man Terry Arthur, has worked in coffee shops for years but has never encountered anything like this before.

The 40-year-old hopes the project is a success in the long-term, but admits it is relying on the honest nature of customers to pay fair prices.

“It’s a great idea and a really interesting concept.

“As well as customers paying what they think something is worth, it will be about what they can afford to pay. “So if someone comes in and they’re clearly destitute that will factor into our thinking.

“It’s a great opportunity to cut down food waste and give a chance to people who have fallen on hard times.”

Coming next could be a concept which has proved successful in America – having something to eat then leaving money on the table for whoever follows you in.

But that will depend on the success of the Not Guilty menu.

The Bench Cafe, which has teamed up with North West Kent College for the training, is open from 9am to 3pm, Mondays to Fridays. It is situated in The Gr@nd.

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