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A Magazine for Sheffield

“Good food does good”: Blend Kitchen on positive change through food

General manager Justin Rowntree tells us how the not-for-profit dining and events space is using hospitality "as a catalyst" to support local people and build community.

Blend Kitchen dining
Blend Kitchen

Blend Kitchen was founded with a mission to use "the world of hospitality as a catalyst to improve health, life skills, employability and social cohesion for those who face employment barriers."

Justin Rowntree leads the not-for-profit dining and events space, which is located at the Wards Exchange building on Ecclesall Road. Here he shares what is unique about what Blend do and how they provide life-changing opportunities to local people.

Can you tell us more about Blend Kitchen?

What sets Blend Kitchen apart is our commitment to provide life-changing opportunities to trainees with a range of backgrounds, including those with diagnosed mental health conditions, autism, learning disabilities, physical disabilities or anyone experiencing homelessness. We also support people with convictions, those overcoming substance misuse, asylum seekers, victims of human trafficking and the long-term unemployed.

[Our] "Good food does good" strapline reflects Blend Kitchen's core values of using hospitality to create positive change at a community level.

Our outreach programmes are aimed at improving food and nutrition in deprived communities and reflect our commitment to work together with the community. By dining or booking an event with Blend Kitchen, you can enjoy delicious food and support our mission to make a difference in the lives of those who are facing employment barriers.

We launched our Ecclesall Road venture in April 2021 – yep, that's right, mid-pandemic! – and from finding the space to adding the finishing interior touches, Blend Kitchen is the result of collaboration of communities and individuals that truly believe in our work. It’s been a tough journey, but with recent landmark events like a Royal visit from The Countess of Wessex, winning Sheffield's Best Social Enterprise and [being] awarded Tripadvisor's Travellers Choice Award, we know we’re doing something right and all the hard work is worth it!

What can people expect at Blend Kitchen?

Whether you are coming for brunch, a meeting or private hire event, you can expect a relaxed and inclusive atmosphere.

Our kitchen is run by award-winning head chef Simon Clarke. Simon previously worked as head chef at Silversmiths for five years and played a pivotal role in taking the restaurant to new heights, earning it a place among the region's best dining spots.

Under Simon's guidance, our menu is globally inspired, seasonally influenced and locally sourced, reflecting our commitment to providing a unique dining experience while supporting the local community.

Why is working with the Sheffield community important to what you do?

We believe that working with the Sheffield community is essential for creating positive change at a grassroots level. By providing training and employment opportunities to people who face barriers to the job market, we're helping to improve the lives and wellbeing of those in our community.

Grassroots change can make a significant difference by empowering individuals, building stronger communities and creating a ripple effect that can lead to lasting change.

Why is it so important for you to work with local suppliers?

We believe in the importance of keeping profits within the community. We also recognise the significant impact that the pandemic has had on small, independent businesses, which is why we strive to use locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. By doing so, we not only create delicious, globally-inspired dishes, but also contribute to the local economy and promote sustainable practices.

What results have you seen from giving people those opportunities?

We’re proud to see the positive impact our training and employment opportunities have had on the lives of our trainees. It's incredibly rewarding to witness their growth, both in their confidence and in their professional skills. We're thrilled to see many of our trainees moving on to full-time employment elsewhere, equipped with the experience and knowledge gained through their time with us.

Here’s some voices from the people working with Blend:

Blend Kitchen Owen
Blend Kitchen

Owen is a real BK success story. When he joined us he had never held a paid job in his life. After training and support he now is a key member of the kitchen team.

I’m telling you, this place is full of good people. I’m always happy here…and if you want damn good poached eggs, I'm your man!

Blend Kitchen Davina
Blend Kitchen

Davina works front of house once a week. She’s had the support and safe space to develop skills and confidence and is now a barista par excellence!

I’m very happy here. It can get very busy but we all work together!

Blend Kitchen Stephen
Blend Kitchen

Stephen is one of our longest serving team members.

I am pretty good at all tasks I need to do out front, and so now I am responsible for showing the new trainees what to do… I’m very proud of this!

How can people support Blend Kitchen?

Local people can support Blend Kitchen by coming along for food or to one of our events.

You can also volunteer your time to help with outreach programmes aimed at improving food and nutrition in deprived communities.

Look out for our exciting plans for the upcoming year. We are planning to host live music events, poetry and spoken word events and outside catering for local festivals. Check our website or social media pages for updates.

Learn more

Blend Kitchen, Wards Exchange, 197 Ecclesall Road, S11 8HW.

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