This time on a Monday morning the foyer of Brunswick Church would normally be buzzing. There’d be people getting help on the internet, some finishing a woman’s group and others just chatting over a coffee, maybe waiting for the free lunchtime service to start. But, of course, things have changed.
It’s not totally quiet. Behind the closed shutters I can hear lots of activity in the kitchen and, on this side, community resources manager Mo Blue is wrapping pieces of chocolate brownie. Volunteer Garry is here too, stacking takeaway cartons of chick pea curry.
Ten months into the pandemic I ask Mo how difficult it has been to support their community? “It’s different, it’s just different. We’ve had to adapt. We’re doing a lot online with our regular groups.
“And it’s important that we still have all these meals for our regulars each day,” she says, waving a hand across the takeaway boxes.
Today I’ve come over especially to talk with Garry. Last year he was a service user himself, coming here regularly for a hot meal. Now he’s a 5-day-a-week volunteer helping Mo and the team from Cracking Good Food. “Garry’s been a star,” says Mo. “He’s got a great personality and he just gets on with things.”
“I first walked through those doors to attend my regular support group meetings,” Garry says after we’ve got ourselves a brew and sat well apart. “And then I was invited to attend the fitness training programme. That was amazing… I’d never done anything like that before. Everyone was so welcoming.”
Garry tells me next month will be a milestone birthday and, he admits, there have been many times he thought he wouldn’t see it.
“I grew up in the back streets of Clayton,” he says. “As early as I remember I was being beaten up by my brother or his friends. I picked up my first drink when I was 11 and a year later I took a paper round just to pay for the booze. I’ve had four decades of active addiction.
“It’s been a rocky road what with family tragedies, serious ill health and relationship breakdowns,” Garry admits. “But since coming here the staff have really pulled me through.”
“And now you’re a volunteer here, what do you have to do?” I ask.
“I come in about 12 each day and make sure everything is laid out, ready for those who need a meal. We serve them one at a time at the front door, offer them a hot drink and heat their meal if they need it.
“We feed anywhere between 15 and 30 people each day, Monday to Friday,” he says, “and with schools closed there’s more pressure on families to feed their kids.”
“I can see that you enjoy helping out,” I suggest.
“I love it. Every day is different and that’s what I like about it. I look forward to seeing the staff each day… when they smile, it makes me smile.”
It’s getting close to opening time and Garry has work to do. “All I want in my life now is peace,” he says, heading for the stack of meals.
The ‘Brunswick Beestro’ is open at 1pm Monday-Friday serving free takeaway hot food to the vulnerable. Brunswick Church, Brunswick Street, Ardwick, Manchester, M13 9SX.