IT’S like any other cosy café with hot meals, friendly faces and happy chatter – but the big difference is that everything is free.

There’s no till at the Chatty Café in Old Kilpatrick near Glasgow because it has been set up to combat the growing issues of social isolation and food insecurity. Since opening in April, the cafe has fed 1200 people.

“You don’t know what you can do until you start,” says founder Maureen Cummings.

What she has started is quite remarkable and shows what one person can achieve even when the problems seem insurmountable.

Her efforts began as a small act of kindness during the Covid lockdowns and have mushroomed into a major enterprise which encompasses the cafe and a food bank which supported 15,000 people this year alone.

“My life has changed dramatically but I never would have believed in a million years that this was so needed,” she says.

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“It started off being all about food and poverty but it is so much more now – it’s the engagement with people, the friendships and the sense of purpose.”

It all began when both Maureen and her husband Gordon were furloughed during the lockdowns.

“I saw a report on the news about a couple down south collecting prescriptions from the chemist and delivering them round their village,” remembers Maureen. “I thought that was quite a nice thing to do so I set up a Facebook page to say that if anybody needed anything collected from the chemist to let us know.”

Within an hour, the messages began to flood in and the couple started their mission, with no idea that it would snowball into something much bigger when they began to be offered food to distribute.

At first, they took the supplies to food banks in the Glasgow area but realising there was a need for a similar facility locally, they decided to set one up.

“Everybody we knew told us not to bother because Old Kilpatrick didn’t need a food bank,” says Maureen. “But when I was delivering prescriptions I could see there was a need so we set one up.”

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That was May 2020 and since then, Old Kilpatrick Food Parcels has fed nearly 30,000 people and created jobs for seven of the 120 volunteers, some of whom initially reached out for help and are now self-sufficient.

This year alone, deliveries were made to a total of 5500 households with an average of three people. There is also a pet food bank that feeds 400 pets a month and was set up because Maureen noticed that people were going without in order to feed their beloved pets.

There is a focus on food waste because while donations were high they were not matching demand.

“I tried to think of other ways to get food and we now collect food waste every night of the week from a supermarket,” says Maureen. “We are averaging 500kgs a week of rescued food – half a tonne. We use it in the cafe and give families foodbags with the same ingredients and a wee recipe.”

In addition, thanks to funding from the Clydebank Rotary Club, the charity has been able to put 100 volunteers through their hygiene, first aid and health and safety certificates, giving them skills which could be used in paid jobs.

In June this year, the village hall closed. Gifted by the Napier family in 1958, it had fallen into disrepair but Maureen applied to take it over so it could be restored into an asset for the village.

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“The plan is to make it a really desirable venue in West Dunbartonshire,” she explains. “We will create our own HQ on the side of it and use it to generate an income for it to become sustainable.”

This could cost in the region of £300,000 but despite being bamboozled by grant application forms at first, Maureen is now applying for major sums in forms running to 30 pages.

“It is hard work as we both work for the charity seven days a week,” she admits. “My husband doesn’t take anything from it and I get a part-time salary but we have just learned to cut costs.”

Christmas Day is the only day the couple take off, but Maureen keeps her phone on “because you never know when there is going to be a crisis”.

Meanwhile, 100 families will be opening their surprise presents delivered by 20 volunteer drivers for the charity.

“The one question I get asked constantly is what I do all this for and what I am getting out of it,” says Maureen. “I honest to God don’t have an answer to that but I hate saying ‘no’ to anything.”