The Cosy Crow Cafe asking customers to ‘pay as you feel’

4 September 2017

Within a week of opening, The Cosy Crow Cafe had already gained regular customers. Their ‘pay as you feel’ meals –  made using surplus food from FareShare North East – proved a big hit with the older community in Gateshead. It’s not just the affordable homemade meals that keep customers coming back though. For people who live alone, it can also be the chance to talk to somebody.

Serving ‘pay as you feel’ meals

The Cosy Crow Cafe was set up by Gateshead Older People’s Assembly (GOPA) to support people aged over 50 who might not get enough to eat.  From their friendly kitchen, they serve up homemade dishes such as spiced lentil soup, hotpots and tomato quiche.

All the meals are pay-as-you-feel, which means that there are no set prices. Instead, customers can put what they can afford into a collection box. This approach helps “reduces the stigma and barriers to people coming along” says Craig Bankhead. Craig is Development Manager for GOPA and was instrumental in launching the cafe.

The Cosy Crow can afford to keep prices low because they use food that would have otherwise gone to waste, provided to them by FareShare North East. “FareShare gives us an opportunity to feed people for considerably less” Craig says. “It stops us falling into a rut of just making toasties too. We recently had lots of cannellini beans so made a chilli. The customers really like things like the fresh fruit from FareShare…and the Mr Kipling cakes!”

Groups of older people sitting at tables eating lunch. One woman is giving the thumbs up to show her approval for her pay as you feel lunch.

Regulars dig into lunch at The Cosy Crow Cafe.


Volunteers Charden, Massimo and Angela in the Cosy Crow kitchen

Introducing Ronnie and the regulars

80-year-old Ronnie is one of the regulars at The Cosy Crow. He lives alone and was signposted to GOPA when support services were concerned he wasn’t eating at home.

“Ronnie drives here in his three-wheeled Reliant Robin,” Craig says. “He wasn’t eating enough because he doesn’t have the skills to cook at home. Now he comes along regularly and chats to everyone!”

Craig explains that “a lot of the people who come in are older widowed men from traditional families. They have never needed to learn to cook. It can be really difficult to get men to come along and the café has attracted them. There are four or five regulars, like Ronnie, who come in now. At the start, they were sitting on separate tables but now they are coming together naturally.”

Tackling malnutrition in Gateshead

Tackling malnutrition in the local area is an important part of The Cosy Crow’s mission. It is estimated that 5,000 of Gateshead’s older population are malnourished or at risk of malnourishment.

This can be down to lack of money for quality food – the ward that Cosy Crow is located in is one of most deprived areas in England.

Cost isn’t the only barrier to good food though. Craig explains that “it can also be that people are not physically able to chop veg or open a tin. Some people have Parkinson’s so struggle to prepare food of nutritional value. Or it might be that people who live alone think ‘I’m on my own so I’ll just have a bag of crisps. Why should I cook a roast when it’s just for me?’ It can be a lack of skills too. It can even be about proximity to shops.”

Food from FareShare is helping to tackle malnutrition by providing the Cosy Crow with the fresh ingredients needed to make nutritious meals, which they might not be able to afford otherwise. The Cosy Crow also uses FareShare food as a talking point with their customers. “We use the food to educate people about food waste. We bang the drum about it!” Craig says. “That it’s in-date surplus from the food industry, that’s what we tell people. It starts a dialogue with our beneficiaries. It gives us an opportunity to educate people about food waste in their own house too.”