What better place to start building Sheffield’s future in a new world economy than in an old funeral parlour?
“We’re breathing new life into a morgue,” said Louis Koseda, as he and Gill Neill prepared the signs for the first Sheffield Ethical Christmas Market last Friday.
Louis, Gill and their young and ambitious colleagues should not be underestimated. Their ‘Food Hall’ initiative began less than a year ago, and has already won two Sheffield Design Awards (despite being run by volunteers on virtually no budget) and feeds up to 60 people a day on a ‘pay as much as you want’ pricing structure, using food donated by shops, supermarkets and allotment holders.
Expect the unexpected if you call in, said Louis. Beetroot risotto, for example, or samphire salad. “You get some creative but crazy stuff coming out of here.”
In the next office at the former Coop Funeral Directors building on Eyre Street, the Learn Create Sell social enterprise has helped nearly 70 new Sheffield entrepreneurs start their own businesses, 60% of whom were previously unemployed, or had physical or mental health problems.
Market organiser Gill Neill said: “People really can make a difference by their own activities.”
On Black Friday, the two organisations launched the Sheffield Ethical Christmas Market to promote the long-standing Sheffield virtues of collaboration rather than cut throat competition.
Modern Silicon Valley open source software sharing has parallels with Sheffield’s little mesters, said Louis.
“The cutlery industry here was a collaborative enterprise initially,” said Louis.
“It made Sheffield more versatile and competitive with other cities. People would come to Sheffield and say: ‘Can you do this?’ and the answer might be, ‘I can’t do that, but if I team up with John, Jim and Harry, I can.’ That’s what’s happening here now, it’s a modern version of the little mesters.”
So, Learn Create Sell might link an unemployed person with a good idea to a team of sympathetic business advisers. “It’s the opposite to Dragons Den,” said Zak Ahmed, who set up Learn Create Sell in 2014 to teach business and marketing skills and help inspire new entrepreneurs, who can now use production tools (such as a modern laser cutter) and online marketplaces to make and sell Lionel Ritchie chopping boards or Yorkshire vs Everybody tea mugs, for example.
The agency also links modern ‘little mesters’ to each other, and to counterparts in Barcelona, Vancouver, Bangkok, Jakarta and elsewhere via the Sheffield - based Hantu Collective, said Hantu director Angga Kara, Zak’s former Fir Vale schoolfriend and now business partner.
“The world is getting smaller, and we know that something learned here can also be applied to someone in Thailand or Singapore,” he said. One example is a cooperative in Morocco who worked with Hantu in Sheffield to set up a team of volunteers in an empty building in the Philippines to help educate orphans. “So why don’t we make it easier for someone here to learn from someone on the other side of the world?” said Angga.
Discussions of how to change the world in challenging times are an important topic at The Food Hall, whose volunteers and customers could be anyone from “millionaires to homeless people,” said Louis.
Visitors end up having a chat over their food, and those going through ‘tough times’ as Louis puts it, could find help with housing, or just as importantly offer help by working shifts alongside the trained chefs in the kitchen. They might eventually go on to set up a business, added Zak Ahmed.
“Our ethos is that human beings are built to collaborate and work as a group rather than as individuals in silos,” said Zak.
The Food Hall are now seeing older people at a loss what to do after being turned out of regular 9-5 jobs they thought would be theirs to retirement. Volunteering or looking at new business ideas helps them find purpose, said Louis. “The revolution of industry isn’t going to stop, we will lose more jobs while we see more and more surpluses,” he said. “Currently we’re wasting a third of our food in the UK, and then you hear people saying we can’t afford to feed a truckload of refugees.”
The food surpluses from The Moor Market and nearby Sainsbury’s end up in the creative recipes of the Food Hall, where volunteers from all backgrounds are encouraged to come and ‘cook for your city.’
“2016 has not been a good year around the world,” said Louis, “but it’s at times like these that people need to get together, as the local is all that we really have control of. While the world is closing its doors, we try to keep as many doors open as we can.”
> The Food Hall is open Thursday to Saturday 10am - 3pm
> Learn Create Sell: http://learncreatesell.com