Lancaster pub is helping to feed the thousands

Robert Gillow landlord Mark Cutter with Year 3 pupils and teacher at Skerton St Luke's Primary School.
Robert Gillow landlord Mark Cutter with Year 3 pupils and teacher at Skerton St Luke's Primary School.

A free food initiative set up by a Lancaster pub is going from strength to strength.

Mark Cutter, landlord at The Robert Gillow, launched the scheme in the wake of Storm Desmond in December when the pub had a surplus of food to use up.

Mark Cutter with staff from Tesco in Carnforth and their recent delivery.

Mark Cutter with staff from Tesco in Carnforth and their recent delivery.

And the roaring success meant he has continued with the idea and now offers free food throughout the day from the Market Street venue.

In the last week they have also distributed 1,200 boxes of cereal to schoolchildren and community groups across the city.

Mark said: “From the minute we open until we close there’s a table of food and soup all the time, changing throughout the day to include breakfast and healthy foods, salads and soup.”

The Robert Gillow works with several suppliers, including the Lancashire branch of national organisation FareShare, who distribute food which is unable to be sold due to issues such as its expiry date or rebranding.

Last week they sent three pallets of cereal boxes to the pub, which would otherwise have gone to waste due to having a short ‘best before’ date.

Mark said: “Initially we joked that we could make the world’s biggest rice krispie cake, but we then contacted various schools.

“At Willow Lane, Skerton St Luke’s and St Joseph’s and Cathedral schools, every child took home a pack of cereal and a leaflet about our project. That was 800 boxes.

“We also gave boxes to Lancaster Royal Grammar School, Dallas Road School and Lancaster Boys’ and Girls’ Club for their breakfast clubs.

“In total we gave away 1,200 boxes of cereal.”

Mark said the initiative aims to help social inclusion as well as those struggling to pay for meals.

“It generally works on the basis that it’s free for everyone, so that no one feels any stigma using it,” he said. “For people having to make a choice between eating or coming out and meeting people, they can come out and have something to eat and be with people. That social aspect and community cohesion is really important.

“We have had homeless people sitting in the pub alongside people drinking champagne celebrating a birthday. Everyone gets along; it’s working perfectly.”

The Robert Gillow also runs a ‘suspended drinks’ voucher scheme, allowing customers to pay for a voucher which gives someone else a free drink. Since January more than 700 vouchers have been sold.

It is now hoped the initiative will take off in other cities.

Police commissioner Clive Grunshaw has visited The Robert Gillow to find out more, and police officers in Lancaster have also spoken to Mark. Landlords in Bury, Blackpool, Blackburn and Burnley have also contacted Mark to discuss how his scheme works, as well as community groups in Lancaster.

“I do think it’s something for businesses to start thinking about,” Mark said. “This is a time for us all to come together.”

Anyone who wants to support the project by buying suspended drinks, but is unable to get to the pub, can send a Paypal payment to mark@robertgillow.com.