Break-in was a "kick in the guts" for Sheffield restaurant aiming to blend together new Ecclesall Road community
“It was a kick in the guts”, said Justin Rowntree, of the break in at the restaurant and event space he manages on Ecclesall Road.
Blend Kitchen opened its new modern site with big plans and on a mission to help adults who face barriers when looking for employment – and was even backed by a donation of equipment from Michelin starred chef Tom Aikens.
But just days after opening, it was broken in, with a glass window smashed, alcohol and an empty till taken. It means the team now needs to raise thousands of pounds for a new roller shutter, CCTV and lighting.
“It was a kick in the guts after only being open for a few days”, said Justin.
"This is a community project that is about uniting a community and now somebody in that community has done this.
"What is ironic is that the person who did this is somebody we could probably help. That’s the bitter irony. It was sickening but also a reminder of why we are here.”
The team now want to turn a negative into a positive, echoing the work they do to train ‘marginalised’ people in hospitality and find them a job. They are launching an online Crowdfunding appeal to help fund the new shutters, estimated to cost about £15,000.
Justin added: “If we can use this to let the community know where we are and what we do that is a positive thing.
"Every penny we make is not for profit, it goes back into what we do. So having to spend money on shutters would mean we can’t spend it on helping people. £15,000 would train 15 people and get them work.”
Blend has many success stories. A recent trainee who had experienced homelessness has now found work with The Crucible. Another man in his 50s found his first paid employment.
Roles are tailored to an individual’s needs – one trainee with autism excelled at kitchen preparation, another at greeting customers. Blend hopes it will be able to help meet a shortage in hospitality staff.
Connor Everitt, aged 20 and of Parson Cross, is currently working in the kitchen.
"It has made quite a big difference to my life to be honest”, he says, talking of making friends, building confidence as well as skills, after struggling with bullying and finding work previously.
Justin says the team help change people’s perceptions, as well as transforming their own lives.
He added: “If you are not working, you are not engaging with society. To give people an opportunity to work gives people a bigger chance to be part of society.”
Blend’s future plans include a kitchen garden, educational growing project and giving an ‘identity’ to the lower end of Ecclesall Road, where many new developments are opening, to link them and the more established section of ‘restaurant row.’
Justin added: “We want to bring everyone together and showcase what’s going on at this end. “It’s getting people to come here who might usually go to Sharrowvale. We want people to realise there’s a reason to come here - hopefully it might lead to more investment.”
Visit crowdfunder.co.uk/blend-kitchen-sheffield-1 to donate from March 28.