How Bristol’s hospitality sector has responded to the crisis with kindness

Tessa Lidstone, joint-owner of Box-E restaurant in Wapping Wharf writes our latest blog post. With the restaurant that she runs with chef Elliott Lidstone now closed, she has been organising food packages going out to some of Bristol’s most vulnerable people during the COVID-19 crisis.

We’ve been truly touched by the support that so many of our customers at our Wapping Wharf restaurant have shown us after we had to pack down the restaurant nearly a month ago. So many people got in touch with Elliott and I asking how to help.

Within days of realising what the COVID-19 crisis would do to the restaurant industry in the city, Bristol’s wonderful chefs from independents all around city came together to work out how to help feed those in need, and to hopefully preserve a future for Bristol’s food scene.

It was from this that Bristol Food Union (BFU) was born, an informal collective of restaurants, food businesses and community organisations that have come together across sectors to contribute to feeding Bristol’s most vulnerable people during the crisis, keeping food from restaurant supply chains moving after closures have left us with effectively no business to run.  

BFU was formed from a desire to form a supportive network of restaurants and producers across Bristol while doing something useful. The Union has since partnered with Caring in Bristol and Feeding Bristol to support the city’s provision for homeless and vulnerable groups. You can also donate to feed a frontline worker on the BFU website.

We are organising weekly boxes of essentials (and some treats) to care leavers across the city. We all know how hard this situation is even if you’ve got a lot of people around you. Care leavers may need a little boost as they are often without the support networks that many of us are lucky enough to have. Many of the people we are preparing the boxes for might have left foster care a few years ago, but they’ve been identified by the Council as needing a little bit of extra support.

The boxes provide some of the essentials like baked beans and toilet rolls, but we’ve been fortunate enough to be donated some lovely treats, nice biscuits, shampoos and soaps as well as the food provision. So it’s a mixture of things that everyone could do with right now, and things that will put a smile on your face.

Elliott has been a chef all his life and he is certainly not ready to stop cooking yet, so he is helping at the Square Food Foundation and getting 150 meals a day to vulnerable families. We have worked with Square Food Foundation before and knew they needed help so that was an obvious choice for a partnership – the work they do is absolutely fantastic. You can donate to support Square Food Foundation’s #SquareMeals project supporting families who are at risk of food poverty.

Bristol City Council has provided some financial support to make the care leavers boxes possible and they have been boosted by generous donations from Kabuto Noodles, Lush, Beyond the Bean, the Bristol Hotel, Total Produce, and partnerships with FareShare Southwest and with Caring in Bristol. We urge other businesses with large quantities of items that can’t be used at the moment to consider a donation. We have some space to store items at Ashton Gate stadium where we are distributing the boxes, but not a huge amount for perishable goods.

It is heartening to see how many people have stepped forward to help (both people we know and those who don’t). Our veg supplier got involved with his van, and some of our customers volunteered to deliver. It’s been a really amazing community effort.

Bristol has always had a network of people across the food scene making an impact, from cooking for homeless people to running school breakfast clubs, but I think this time has made us all realise just what can be achieved when we work together.

Tessa Lidstone is owner of Box-E restaurant which she runs with her husband chef Elliot Lidstone.