A COMMUNITY café which serves up meals from waste food has become a ‘valuable asset’ since it opened in April, a new report shows.

Customers can pay whatever they like to eat at The Refuse Café, in Chester-le-Street, and a study has found it has helped tackle loneliness, helped customers eat healthier and try new kinds of foods.

A project to examine the operation has been carried out, led by Dr Jane Midgley, from Newcastle University.

She said: “The benefits of redistributing surplus food is usually measured in terms of the amount of food saved and the number of meals created, however our aim was to go beyond this and identify the possible social impacts created by the café’s opening.

“We developed an approach that could be easily replicated by other organisations using surplus food to measure their own social impacts and enable them to feed back to their communities, funders and the food industry itself.”

The report, A Recipe for Success, highlights how the café has become a valued resource in the town by its customers.

It identifies the unique environment its PAYF philosophy has created, its acceptance of people from different walks of life, the staff and volunteers, and the physical space which combined to create a distinctive atmosphere.

People identified how the café enabled them to care for themselves directly and for family and friends without stigma, allowing them to address food poverty and social isolation.

The café activities created a sense of community awareness and support, while also offering opportunities to meet new people.

Customers also described how the café impacted on their everyday habits such as eating a greater variety of food, eating healthier dishes and enjoying meals through the changing menu.

These impacts are described by four distinct themes which reflect how and why the café is viewed as an asset within the community.

These themes are What makes us unique, We’re more than a café, Changing habits and Social life.

The Refuse Café uses food collected from food retailers and manufacturers that would otherwise be wasted.

The community interest company Refure forms part of the Real Junk Food Project network of cafés and activists.

While food waste reduction was the central motivation in the development of the café, this study sought to identify its wider social and community impacts following the café’s opening earlier this year.

The research was undertaken as a co-production project between Newcastle University and Refuse CIC.

This means that the research was produced together with people from the local community who documented the impact of the cafe on their own lives and the wider community, and helped to shape the narrative of the report.

Mim Skinner, the co-director of Refuse, said: “When you run a busy social enterprise you rarely get time to stop and measure what’s actually going on in the space so it’s been a real help to have someone come and do that for us.”