Hastings homeless helpers defy council

Chris Oliver (left) hosting the Love Kitchen stall.
Chris Oliver (left) hosting the Love Kitchen stall.

A group of people in Hastings who provide free food and clothes to the homeless have defied the council’s threats of closure and continued to serve those in need on Sunday (July 5).

The group called Love Kitchen was told by Hastings Borough Council last Sunday it needed a street trader’s licence and proper health and safety requirements to serve food.

Volunteers were told them not to set up this week or the police would be called.

But after a storm of social media support for the group, Love Kitchen was able to stay open and the council has retracted the need for a licence.

Chris Oliver is one of the main organisers of Love Kitchen and he was told he would have to register the organisation as a food business with Rother District Council and may have to pay business rates on his home.

“I got the feeling I might actually get financially penalised for doing what I’m doing,” he said.

The council also forced the group to move its stall after some complaints.

However, Mr Oliver said most people and businesses have been supportive, including McDonalds which gives them coffee cups and Costa which gives them hot water.

The group has had a stall in the town centre most Sundays since February with no issues until recently.

“I don’t want to have a toxic relationship with the council, I’d prefer to have a decent, working relationship with them but there are a few red lines that I can’t cross and one is being shuffled away somewhere where we can’t be seen,” said Mr Oliver.

He thinks Love Kitchen would not still be going were it not for the support received from social media last week and believes the community wants it to keep going.

“It was the response of everyone around us rather than anything I did which got the result we did. I felt like the community as a whole has kept us open,” he said.

Part of the overwhelming response online was helped by Hastings Solidarity - an organisation dedicated to helping people in Hastings - as its call for action on Facebook reached more than 40,000 people in five days.

“The point of us coming down was to make sure they continue to help homeless people, giving free food and clothes out to people who need it,” Hastings Solidarity member Neil O’Warne said.

“Hastings Solidarity is all about local people helping each other in any way that they can.”

Hastings Borough Council spokesman Kevin Boorman is adamant the council is not against helping the homeless and wants to work with Love Kitchen.

“Hastings Borough Council is committed to working with, and for, its most vulnerable residents,” he said.

“We must refute any suggestion or implication that we somehow don’t care for, or provide help for, homeless and other vulnerable people here.”

Mr Boorman listed many different projects the council are involved in supporting the homeless and said he hoped Love Kitchen could work together with similar organisations instead of in isolation.

“Hastings Borough Council does a lot of work to support its most vulnerable residents, and is happy to work with the Love Kitchen to identify a suitable location that they can work from, and is properly licensed and regulated,” he said.

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