When the Movember Foundation, which promotes men’s physical and mental health, announced its Social Innovation Challenge in 2017, Jamie Sadler was moved to respond.
At the time, figures from the Samaritans showed that two out of three suicides in the UK were male, while drug overdose and suicide were – and still are – the biggest killers of middle-aged men.
“I kept thinking about how horrendous those figures were,” says Sadler, who runs Harissa Kitchen, a restaurant and social enterprise inspired by north African and Mediterranean cuisine, alongside Food Nation, an educational not-for-profit, in Newcastle upon Tyne. “When I saw the challenge online, I knew I had to get involved,” he says. “Northern blokes famously love pies, so it made sense to build an enterprise around that.”
After a go-ahead from the foundation, the Men’s Pie Club was launched as a pilot project in 2017. Delivered through a partnership of Food Nation and the Men’s Health Forum, the first club was set up with an aim to bring together men of all ages to enjoy “good mates, good fun and great pies”. It was a resounding success, gaining referrals across Newcastle.
There are now three clubs dotted around the city, in Benwell, Byker and Shieldfield. Every week, members gather in the kitchen around camping stoves in groups of three to 13, and prepare rustic pie dishes from scratch, including classic steak and kidney, and creamy chicken; a welcome chat and break for members who would usually be socially isolated and lonely.
“We had such a positive response that we started to make plans for a Men’s Pie Club bible,” Sadler says. “It is a complete guide to setting up your own club, covering everything from marketing and referrals to recipes and equipment.” The bible was set to be completed in 18 months, but when the lockdown was announced in March, plans had to be put on hold. “We were gutted, as things were just taking off, but we’ve adapted,” he says.
The kitchen doors remain closed; however, every Tuesday, lead volunteer and manager Colin now delivers a freshly baked pie to 16 members of the club.
“They’re really happy to see him. Who wouldn’t like a freshly baked pie delivered to their door? It can be tricky for some of our members to stay in touch, as they don’t have smartphones and they tend to have smaller social circles, so they’re not used to reaching out. But they’re excited about getting back into the kitchen to cook, and our referrals (which can come from anyone locally) are still flooding in. We expect to have 30 to 40 members when we reopen the clubs.”
Sadler has not just had to adapt the way Men’s Pie Club runs; his efforts at Harissa Kitchen have also been fired up. The Harissa Kitchen Food Rescue Mission, set up by the team, meant 13 volunteers served more than 11,400 free meals to the community during lockdown.
Hoping to support all professions, including chefs and front-of-house staff facing possible redundancy, the restaurant worked hard over 16 weeks to produce the meals.
“We learnt so much about the local community over a few short weeks,” he says. “We started the rescue project because it seemed like the right thing to do. In the future, we hope to see Men’s Pie Club reach new heights by extending the service nationwide.”
For more information, go to menspie.club