As any local knows, Reigate is not short on restaurants. Many popular chains are here, and a new one seems to open every few months. However, there is one unique place to eat in town that is not so familiar – ‘The Easter Project’ at St Mary’s Community Centre, Chart Lane. Despite the name, it’s not an annual event, it takes place every Saturday at 12.30pm (even at Christmas). The food is excellent, it gets great reviews from its patrons, there’s no need to book, and it proves that there is indeed such a thing as a free lunch!
Based on a similar scheme in Crawley, the project started in January 2009 after teenagers from St Mary’s spent a cold October night sleeping rough in Reigate Tunnel to raise awareness of homelessness. The experience had a profound impact on them, and during their vigil they met 20 local homeless people. It became apparent that there was a real need right on Reigate’s
Initially, around 30 hot meals were provided. However seven years on, teams of volunteers prepare, cook and serve a main course, pudding, fresh fruit and drinks to around 60 people each week.
An art and knitting club run before lunch, a monthly stall provides clothing and groceries, and lifts can be arranged for those who need transport. The project has developed good relationships with Social Services and housing associations, and working in co-operation any concerns/needs that guests may have can be flagged up and solutions found.
Although many diners are disadvantaged or vulnerable in some way, a variety of people come for an array of reasons, from the youngest (19 months) to the eldest (96 years). No one is turned away and no questions are asked. One guest, who has mental health issues, told me enthusiastically, ‘I love it here! If it weren’t for this place I would lose the plot!’ Another, a gentleman deaf from birth, told me what a huge difference the project has made to his social life, and another comes simply because she cannot cook (I know the feeling!) – and the food is good. Casserole, Chilli and Veggie Lasagne were on offer when I went along. Close your eyes and you could be in Gordon Ramsey’s restaurant (without the swearing, of course). However, as the guests explain the reasons that they
come each week, it is clear there is far more on offer here than just a meal. Another ‘menu’ of acceptance, respect, friendship, love and support offers something far more sustaining
than the food could ever do.
Volunteers and guests are always welcome. Contact St Mary’s Church Tel: 01737 221100 email: email@example.com
By Sarah Ballingal