Emma Weeks is attending the Lockleaze family dining club for the first time this week.
The mum-of-two is here with her husband and her two children, having heard about it through her sister.
“This is really great,” she said. “We are really fortunate, but lots of people do not have a high income so going out for a meal is not available to them.
“Meeting people in your community has become harder since covid, so this is lovely.
“I have never been to the sports centre before so I may now try to find out what else is going on.”
Held every Monday evening at the Lockleaze Sports Centre, the Lockleaze family dining club is part of the National Food Service Bristol and offers a pay-what-you-can meal, with no one being turned away due to a lack of funds.
Mrs Weeks said they had been to the cinema earlier on the day and that they would probably just had gone home if the dinner club wasn’t on.
Half-term can be quite expensive for families, she continued, as you go out to different things.
The mum said she knows a lot of the people attending tonight, which makes her feel relaxed.
“We do not go out for a meal very often,” she continued. “It is expensive to take four people out for a meal, these days it tends to be for a special treat.
“The last time we went out for a meal before this was in the summer.
“I think this is fantastic – it is affordable and a chance to meet new people in our community.”
Louise Delmege, a founding director of the National Food Service Bristol, said they started hosting community dining nights about a year ago at the end of their food delivery project.
Last year, the project was able tobetween March and September thanks to the help of 300 volunteers.
Once it was safe to do so, they opened in person, Ms Delmege added, hosting the community dinner at Lockleaze Sports Centre every Monday evening.
“The amount of people that comes varies,” she added. “It is normally around 30 people, but we are trying to get it up to 50.
“We just buy the food from the shop at the moment.”
Ms Delmege said they rely on a grant and donations to keep the project going, adding they encourage guests to make a donation for their food if they can but that no one is turned away due to a lack of money.
She said they never ask people what they donate and that they have a list suggesting what people can donate. For instance, £1.50 covers the costs of the ingredients, £3.50 means they can cover other essential costs such as cleaning products and £5 means the project can continue for longer and reach more people, with £10 supporting them to grow.
The 28-year-old said she lived in Lockleaze until very recently and that is the reason why they host their dinners there.
“We had an existing relationship with Lockleaze Sports Club – we used their kitchen during the lockdown,” she continued. “They [Lockleaze Sports Club] want to feel part of the area and their kitchen is really lovely.
“We get mostly local families coming and we get a lot of kids, which is really nice.
“It is a great option for people that want a night out.”
Ms Delmege said they have some regulars that come every week or every other week, adding that all sorts of people attend the dinner.
They never ask people for their financial situation, she continued, and said their objective is to bring people together around food.
“You can just come and eat here,” she said. “The foundations for a strong community are places where you can have conversations, a place that is accessible and open – that is not behind a paywall.
“It is really important for us to provide a space that is accessible and where, regardless of your income, everyone gets the same experience.
“It is really important for people to meet people with different life experiences, to sit together and just eat.
“We want all sorts of people to come here and I would encourage anyone to come and give it a try.
“People should come because it means you do not have to cook on a Monday and it is a chance to get out of the house and meet some new people.”
Ms Delmege, who now lives in St Paul’s, said they always two courses – a main meal and pudding – and that they also sell cheap, frozen meals made out of leftovers for people take home.
Winter is always a tough time, but this year the colder months will be even more challenging for many families in Bristol.
A perfect storm of problems is hitting the country right now, from rocketing energy bills to the removal of the £20-a-week uplift of Universal Credit.
This comes in the context of Bristol having 41 areas in the most deprived 10 per cent in England, according to the latest data from the council, including .
A total of 70,800 people – 15 per cent of residents in Bristol – live in these most deprived areas.
Figures also show that, in Bristol, 15,400 children under the age of 16 live in relative low-income families and that 19,600 households were estimated to experience fuel poverty in Bristol in 2018, which is 9.8 per cent of the city’s households.
At the same time, around four per cent of households in Bristol experienced moderate to severe food insecurity in the last 12 months, according to the council data.
That is why we have launched Benefit Bristol – a campaign we will be running over the next few months to highlight some of the support available to Bristol’s most disadvantaged families.
We will be speaking with the staff and volunteers who help run these organisations, as well as the people who use them.
If you would like to be featured, or know any organisation we should include, you can contact our reporter directly on firstname.lastname@example.org
She said they take requests for meals and that they always offer at least two options for main course – a vegan and then veggie or meat option -, adding meat is quite expensive so they can not afford to offer it every week.
On the night we visit, they have on offer Thai green curry with poppadoms, spanakopita and spaghetti meatballs, as well as homemade brownies and homemade cookie dough ice cream.
“I used to live in Sheffield and was part of a small project like this,” she continued. “I was going through a rough time so having a place like it where I could always afford to eat was so lovely.
“I thought ‘I want to have one of these where I am’.”
Ms Delmege said they usually collect between £50 and £100 a night, which doesn’t cover all of their costs but it goes some of the way.
What do you think about this story? Sign in and let us know in the comments
Vanessa was one of the people attending the meal on Monday, saying they have been as a family about five times now.
She said they first heard about it on Facebook and that they like as the food is always good and it gives them a chance to catch up with other people.
“We know a couple of the other families here,” she said. “It is also nice not to have to cook for one night.
“A lot of people are on a tight budget so to have somewhere where you can just come and have a nice meal is good.
“We only go out for a meal for a special occasion.”
The mum-of-two from Lockleaze said the dining club offers a space where people pay what they can and nobody is judged, as well as being a chance to meet new people.
Get the biggest stories from across Bristol
Mum-of-two Helen Freshwater said they have been around seven times now, adding that it is nice not to have to cook and socialise.
“It is a real respite for a mum to come to a place like this,” said the 42-year-old. “It is amazing.
“You do not have to cook and you do not have to worry about cleaning up afterwards either.
“It is fun and you never know what you are going to get so it makes you try different dishes.
“We would not be going out for dinner if it was not going to be cheap.”
Mrs Freshwater said they used to go to Ikea for a cheap dinner, but that the store has since put prices up.
The mum said she heard about the dining club through her neighbour, adding they always come as a family.
“I love it, I want it to keep going,” she continued. “It provides a respite and interesting food that is always healthy.
“The children love it as well as they get to be with their friends.”
Nine-year-old Holly Freshwater said the food at the club is amazing.
“It feels like a posh restaurant but relaxed and fun”, she said. “I also get a chance to play with my friends.”
And 10-year-old Minnie Edkins said she is also a fan of the food.
“We always have fun when we come here,” she continued.
Mum-of-two Natalia Izdebska said they had been to the dining club a few times now, adding that she comes with her husband and two children.
The 37-year-old said they had attended with their neighbours tonight as they are new to the area.
“I think it is really nice and it brings the community together,” she continued. “The food is always lovely and is freshly cooked.
“If we went to a restaurant, we would be spending around £40 and here we try to give £10 – it is a very affordable way of going out.
“It is very kid friendly. There is lots of space for them to play and they do not have to be sitting at the table either.”
Robert Walters is one of the volunteers at the dining club, helping to prepare the tables and collecting the donations.
The 72-year-old said he volunteers in a few projects in the city as he likes giving love to the community.
“It is a nice community here and the food is always excellent,” he added. “I love meeting new people and I like feeling useful.”
Get the best stories about the things you love most curated by us and delivered to your inbox every day. Choose what you love