It was pouring down with rain as about 50 people queued for their evening meal on a city centre street. For many, this will be their only meal of the day. They collected containers of soup and rice pudding, a bread bun and a bottle of water from outside Marks and Spencer, in Albert Street. […]
It was pouring down with rain as about 50 people queued for their evening meal on a city centre street. For many, this will be their only meal of the day. They collected containers of soup and rice pudding, a bread bun and a bottle of water from outside Marks and Spencer, in Albert Street.
Braving the unkind weather is the Guru Nanak’s Mission; a collection of doctors, dentists, receptionists and unemployed people from all backgrounds with one motive – to provide food, no strings attached.
And if it wasn’t for the group of volunteers who take time out from their lives to provide the free food, they would go hungry.
Many of their beneficiaries are homeless, some have regular shelter but little else, while others may be comparatively privileged but are still welcomed with open arms.
“It doesn’t matter if you have your last fiver in your pocket or a million pounds, we will give food to anyone who asks for it – although it’s generally those who really need it that come,” said Harry Bhaker, 26, who set up the group in March 2013 with four others.
“The main thing is about equality and we serve only vegetarian food, so no one is discriminated against.
“People come to help us for the same reason – they are inspired by what we do and want to inspire others.
“Those we help might be a bit too proud to come to our temple and ask for food, so we take it out to them.
“Me and my brother were recently walking into the train station the night after we had been serving when we saw someone with the rice pudding we had given out the previous night. You realise that someone saved that for their next meal – it’s genuinely making a difference.”
The mission follows the 500-year-old concept of langar, the term used in Sikh religion where food is served in a gurdwara – place of worship – to all visitors for free, regardless of background.
Mr Bhaker’s group was inspired by an idea in Derby, where food is shared by taking it out into the streets rather than inviting visitors inside.
It is now run from three of the six gurdwaras in Nottingham. Each one has a storage room filled with donated food items, including rice, pasta, sugar, tomatoes, tea and lentils.
Up to 60 volunteers are involved in preparing and cooking food in communal kitchens at temples in Percy Street on Monday, Nottingham Road on Wednesday and Norton Street on Thursday. They then pack up the meals – which can range from chips and baked beans to burritos – and take them to the same spot in Albert Street at about 7.30pm on each of those nights.
Graphic designer Jatinder Hanspal, of West Bridgford, has been volunteering since last October with wife Meena, 41, and three-year-old daughter Preet.
The 43-year-old said: “Giving up two or three hours of your evening a couple of days a week doesn’t mean much in the grand scheme of things.
“It’s fulfilling to see the food you’ve prepared going to people who are really, really thankful. The biggest thing I’ve noticed is that it’s not just homeless people – only about 70 per cent of them are.”
Steve Moore, of Forest Fields, joined as an atheist but says he has been drawn to the “goodness” of Sikhism.
The 43-year-old said: “It means a lot to me to show that, whatever background you come from, you can take part.
”At the end of the night, when we say our goodbyes, I just feel a bit better about myself that I’ve helped someone and made their life a little bit easier.”
Many of the people who take the food form queues early in anticipation of the volunteers’ arrival. They take the food to their homes or shelters, or immediately find a step outside a nearby shop to eat their meal.
Jonathan Rawling, of The Meadows, is a regular recipient. The 25-year-old, who was homeless for two years but now has accommodation, said: “There’s a really good atmosphere. It’s very important what they do because most of these people are on the streets and this could be the only source of food for them.
”At the moment, I’ve got one packet of spaghetti, so without their help, I’d be looking for food somewhere else.”
Carlton Forbes, 52, of Arnold, said: “It’s a very reliable and brilliant service that helps all walks of life.
”I don’t really cook and I’m a bachelor, so it’s very important to me. It’s amazing to have a hot meal three nights a week.”
Volunteer Jag Bhaker, 24, said: “They’re always here before us, no matter what the weather is like – it’s a really humbling feeling.
“The rainy days are often when they need our help the most and they always come out because they know we’re a reliable service.”
The group can be contacted via the Facebook page Guru Nanaks Mission Nottm.
The Nottingham Post launched a major new campaign to make our community a better place – and we asked for your help.
We want 1,000 people to promise to do a good deed or act of kindness over the next 12 months.
Our Good Deeds Notts campaign will see organisations, businesses and individuals – including staff from the Post – raising money for charity, volunteering in their communities and giving their neighbours a helping hand.
And we want to celebrate all your good deeds by featuring them in the paper and on our website.
Last weekend volunteers helped kick off our campaign with a sponsored head-shave and dog walking.
Christine Brooke, of The Park Dog Walking Group, said: “I think the campaign is marvellous; every day we should try to do a good deed.”
Staff from the Post also helped launch Good Deeds Notts. They gave blood at the Nottingham Donor Centre and others held a cake sale to raise cash for local charity Maggie’s.
Editor Mike Sassi said: “One thousand good deeds sounds like a very big target – but it can be reached. We never cease to be amazed by the generosity of the people of Nottingham and Nottinghamshire.
“This campaign helps the Post turn that generosity into headline news. It also helps us, on behalf of our city and county, to say thank you to so many selfless people who make this such a great place to live and work.”
Dozens of organisations have promised to back our campaign, including Nottingham City and Nottinghamshire County councils, the Playhouse, Nottinghamshire County Cricket Club and Nottingham Hospitals NHS Trust.
We also have the backing of businesses such the Nottinghamshire Building Society, Experian and Alea Casino and Marco Pierre White’s Steakhouse.
Councillor Alan Rhodes, leader of the county council, welcomed the campaign.
He said: “This underlines the Post’s commitment to highlighting the good things about our county and the great things that Nottinghamshire folk do every day.”