Exeter Cathedral hosted a Next Meal launch recently. Here’s what Canon Becky Totterdell, St Peter Canon, had to say…
I guess most of us reading this won’t worry too much about where we will find our next meal. But for many people in our society it is a very real anxiety, as we know from the massive use of food banks both locally and around the country.
So on 28th June- Exeter Cathedral was delighted to host the launch of ‘Next Meal’ – an online guide in the making, signposting people to where they can find free food in their own locality, wherever they are in the UK or Europe.
Already rolled out in many parts of the country, this was Exeter’s chance to welcome and publicise Next Meal’s coverage of Devon and the South West.
GPS guidance to local free food
Brainchild of Martin Stone, Next Meal is a website which directs homeless people to nearby soup kitchens using GPS data. Martin, who lectures in Housing and Economics, has been manager of a soup kitchen in Muswell Hill, London, for over ten years, and it was there that he came up with the idea, when he realised that most of the homeless people he met had a smartphone.
Help for well-wishers too
As members of the public, we don’t want to pass by those who ask for our help, but we are usually (and rightly) uncomfortable giving money to homeless people not knowing how it might be used. So the next time you come across someone on the streets who asks you for money, what you can give them instead, by looking up nextmeal.co.uk on your own phone, is information about locations of the nearest centres that provide food, and on which days of the week and times of day.
For those who do not have smartphones, the Next Meal organisation also provides small cards with the website details on, which churches can order for their members to carry around, ready to give to someone they see in need. The Cathedral now has a stock of them on the Chaplains’ and Stewards’ desk and you are welcome to take a handful to give to those who might benefit. Next Meal kindly donated two mobile phone chargers to the Wednesday Kitchen, along with a good supply of Next Meal info cards for the Kitchen’s guests.
High level backing and commendation
Comics Sean Lock and Lee Mack, and actress Naomie Harris, supported the launch, and Theresa May has awarded Martin Stone the ‘Points of Light’ award for the venture, a government award which recognises outstanding individual volunteers whose work is making a positive impact on a whole community.
Next Meal is just one of a number of recent technological initiatives to connect the homeless to local services. Streetlink is an app which tells the user – whether homeless person or concerned passerby – where the nearest night shelters and help centres are located.
Exeter’s city-wide response to the problem of homelessness
There was a great turnout in the Chapter House for the southwest launch of Next Meal. On behalf of the Cathedral, I was delighted to welcome the Lord Mayor of Exeter – Councillor Peter Holland – and Mrs Jacky Holland, other members of Exeter City Council, and representatives from Exeter Food Action, St Petrock’s, Julian House, Food Exeter, the Salvation Army, our own Wednesday Kitchen, Apple, Nexus, the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary, nursing staff from the RD&E emergency department, Exeter College, and Exeter University.
The Lord Mayor spoke inspirationally about a charity he’d been involved with in Plymouth some years earlier, which helped homeless people get back into work by arranging work experience and placements for them. In discussion at the launch, it was clear that everyone had a strong desire not just to help in times of crisis, but to put in place a city-wide Plan. This involves all the agencies represented, and more, to lift people out of homelessness and set them on the path to better health, a home to live in, the opportunity for training and work, help to restore broken relationships, and so to regain their sense of worth and purpose.
Canon Chris Palmer represents the Cathedral in discussions with the Exeter Homelessness Partnership. The Partnership has recently taken a big step forward in agreeing to employ someone to pull all the city’s resources together in order to bring about positive change.
Martin Stone’s passion is to see more of this joined-up thinking in every part of the country, and ultimately for there to be a national strategy that works. He clearly has a significant role as an inspirer, catalyst, and encourager in bringing about change. In my conversation with him over coffee earlier that week, he shared that he suspects his next major work will be to come alongside schools to inspire them to help young people develop the resilience that will enable them to withstand the knocks of life. Only that way can we hope to stem the flow of people who might otherwise spiral downwards to the streets in times of significant adversity. A vast new task indeed!
Canon Becky Totterdell, St Peter Canon