Saying Goodbye to Cheers Drive

and what's next for our work on food support and homelessness

On July 30th, the volunteer team for our groundbreaking food support programme Cheers Drive will make their final delivery.

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This feels like a significant moment: since its creation in March 2020, Cheers Drive has delivered 166,000 meals, serving over 850 people living in hotels and temporary emergency accommodation.

It’s brought together a small army of volunteers from every postcode in Bristol, who have clocked a mind-boggling 22,800 hours spent cooking, preparing, packing, and delivering meals.

We were joined by an amazing network of professional chefs and caterers from some of the city’s best-loved restaurants who selflessly donated their resources and skills, as well as a host of other activist groups with whom we coordinated our efforts and whose work continues to inspire us.

None of this would have been possible without the generosity of our funders, donors, and supporters.

Cheers Drive was set up as a humanitarian response to a crisis: hundreds of people experiencing homelessness were placed into self contained spaces, such as hotels and B&Bs, under the government’s ‘Everyone In’ scheme, but had no access to cooking facilities or safe way of accessing food elsewhere.

A service responding to the crisis in a quick, creative, client-centred and robust way is an undertaking that we are immensely proud of and have learned so much from.

Now, in line with one of our three core values – ‘focus on the end goal,’ we are ready to enter the next phase of the project.

Over a year later, the situation is different: many people have moved into temporary accommodation, supported housing, or long-term housing. Sadly, some have been pushed back onto the street through a lack of available options.

Cheers Drive was constructed in response to the needs of those who used the service and succeeded in meeting those needs. Now those needs have changed, and so must we.

Based on client feedback and considered research throughout Cheers Drive, our new food project is a membership-based food store for people with recent experience of homelessness who are experiencing food insecurity and may need assistance sustaining their tenancy.

The new project has so far been generously backed by Bristol City Council and the John James foundation.

It will help members by alleviating pressure on household budgets and reducing the need to use city-centre crisis food provision.

Members using the service will meet our project staff and receive a tailored support plan, including information on food preparation and nutrition, to encourage longer term goals for food security and housing stability.

We are aiming to do things differently. The project is a pilot, with an emphasis placed on dignity, quality, and choice, exploring food as a tool to help people on their journey away from homelessness, rather than just a need to be fulfilled. We plan to monitor and evaluate it closely, sharing our learnings with other food and homelessness organisations and building a model for best practice.

We will be incorporating our learnings and experiences – good and bad – from Cheers Drive to make sure it best suits the needs of those it supports.

The power of partnerships
‘Collaboration’ is one of our core values at Caring in Bristol. Throughout Cheers Drive we worked closely with a huge array of partner organisations, businesses, activist groups, and individuals, creating outcomes greater than the sum of their parts.

Our new project is already bringing together a variety of community partners and we are focused on keeping the needs and voices of the people who will use the service at its centre.

People need the appropriate form of support
When a significant number of Cheers Drive recipients moved from hotels into temporary accommodation, many told us that they no longer wanted to receive pre-prepared meals, and would rather cook for themselves now that they were able to do so. We responded to this need, working with FareShare South West to provide weekly food parcels including fresh fruit and vegetables.

With ‘People First’ being another of our core values it’s important to us that we continually listen to our clients and adapt our services to meet their requirements – our new project is focussed on helping people become ‘food independent’ and reaching a point where they can comfortably shop for and prepare meals that suit them.

Responding to a crisis is taxing
Creating such a large, logistically complex project in a matter of days presented many challenges. Nevertheless, launching Cheers Drive reactively was absolutely necessary for the people we support, and we are proud of how staff and volunteers pulled together to navigate the crisis, particularly in the first tumultuous months of the pandemic.

However, we want to acknowledge that the process left people stressed, tired, and burned out at times. We have learned some important lessons about organisational resilience and how we support one another. We have responded by actioning changes to our feedback structure and collaborative working processes within the organisation to support this.

Food can be a gateway to other forms of help
Cheers Drive deliveries created new opportunities to have regular, one-to-one dialogue with the people receiving them. Our volunteers were able to carry out Covid symptom checks and signpost people to mental health and immigration support. Receiving regular food deliveries also helped a recipient gain the weight they needed to join a detox programme.

Knowing this, our new project will offer education on nutrition and budgeting, communal eating, and once established, pathways into employment, education, and training in catering.

We will be sharing more information on this new project in the coming weeks.

For now, we would like to take this opportunity to say a massive, sincere thank you to everyone who made Cheers Drive happen.

This kind of huge community undertaking makes us so proud of our city and we could not have done it without you.

To continue our life-changing work, we rely on the support of generous, compassionate people like you. Help create a city empowered to solve homelessness by donating today.

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