A kind-hearted cafe owner has provided more than 3,500 meals to local NHS workers after embarking on a mission to feed nurses, doctors, paramedics and other vital staff at hospitals nearly every day.
The Barn Kitchen in Binley Woods, Coventry, usually operates as a normal cafe as well as offering themed children’s parties throughout the year.
Following the onset of the coronavirus outbreak, owner Kelly Iles initially switched to offering a contactless drive-through service for food and drink and other essentials.
But after hearing about the long hours NHS staff were working with few breaks and no chance to eat, Kelly, 44, wanted to do more to help and set herself the task of feeding as many of them as she can.
“I had this mission to cook everything I had in the restaurant for people in the NHS,” said Iles, whose stepmother, cousin and five aunts are all nurses.
“With so many nurses in my family I knew their shifts were longer than usual and on top of that there was no food for them. They’re working 12-, 13-, 14-hour shifts and not eating.”
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The mum-of-three introduced a system where people can pre-pay £4.95 for a meal for a member of NHS staff, who can then pick them up from The Barn Kitchen’s contactless drive-through.
Using a 3m x 3m kitchen and just a two-ring hob, Iles and a small team of volunteers including her family have been whipping up meals such as stews, pasta bakes and macaroni cheese.
They’re also producing filled ciabatta rolls and homemade soup and bread, plus muffins, cream teas, pastries and other “grab-and-go” snacks like salad pots and rice pudding pots for nurses and doctors to eat during their busy shifts.
The food is being delivered to local hospitals including Warwick Hospital, University Hospitals Coventry & Warwickshire in Coventry and George Eliot Hospital in Nuneaton, as well as local NHS trusts to feed district nurses, and ambulance stations to feed paramedics.
Local bakers and suppliers have also joined in the mission, donating specially made cupcakes and cakes as well as bread, while national company Brakes donated eco-friendly packaging to save Iles buying it.
Members of the public have even donated hobs so the team can cook more food, and one local company has lent them a van to deliver food to hospitals.
“The fact we’re doing cold food as well as hot meals and donations of things like packaging mean that people’s £4.95 is actually feeding more than one NHS worker – it’s more like three or four,” Iles said.
“We’ve now provided 3,500 meals since we started last Monday. It started with 300 on the first day and has grown since then – we can’t believe it.
“We’ve fed nurses, doctors, porters, cleaners, paramedics, and have had some beautiful pictures from them thanking us.”
It’s been all-hands-on-deck for Iles, with husband Paul, 46, and their three children, aged 20, 18 and 11, all pitching in.
“We were due to celebrate the first anniversary of The Barn Kitchen on 8 April,” she said. “We put all our savings into this business.”
When restaurants, bars and cafes were ordered to close, Iles managed to pay her rent up to June and paid her staff, including two weeks’ holiday pay, but admits she “cried all day”.
She decided to open as a pop-up shop for local residents who needed supplies, as well as the drive-through collection service, but said when she heard from a local nurse and her own family about the gruelling shifts with no food, she had to help.
“I had all this food that needed using, so I decided to cook it for our NHS workers,” she said. “And then once that ran out I went and bought more.
“I think we spent about £2,000 of our own money on food but it wasn’t sustainable, so that’s when I thought people might like to buy a member of NHS staff a hot meal. It’s just grown since then and the support we’ve had has been amazing.
“I’m out first thing in the mornings getting what I can from Bookers and making as much as we can. We’re keeping it to the same team of 10 volunteers to minimise any contact and anyone involved.
“I just love doing it, it’s keeping me going and keeping me busy. It’s honestly the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.
“I go to sleep with joy in my belly to know we have done something good and that it has helped people who are helping so many other people.”