The hotel that took its kitchen into the community

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This year looked set to be the best on record for the Priory Hotel in Louth.

Strong Trip Advisor reviews for its tasting menu, good occupancy and the launch of charity to provide employment for those with learning difficulties, suggested a promising 2020.

With a number of overseas musicians and comedians signed to perform and numerous weddings already booked, owner Paul Hugill was looking forward to his best trading year since 2010.

And then the Covid-19 pandemic hit and overnight occupancy dropped to 10 per cent and nearly put Paul Hugill out of business.

“It was like the earth fell from beneath us, he said. “Our cash reserves drained quickly.”

Making use of the government retention scheme to help keep them financially afloat, Paul decided to see what he could do to help, explaining: “Rather than seeing the negative we decided to look straight to the positives”.

The Priory had a fully-functioning kitchen that was no longer being used, a fridge and freezer full of food that could no longer be sold, and a town full of people that had supported the hotel for nearly 20 years, and so The Neighbourhood kitchen was born.

Within 24 hours Paul and colleague, Benjamin Smith, were cooking and delivering two meals a day, seven days a week to around a dozen homes that housed vulnerable members of the community.

It is now serving over 100 meals a day, backed by a team of volunteer drivers, ranging from bank managers to students to an RAF Pilot, who are all giving their time and petrol to ensure the most vulnerable and isolated get two meals a day.

The response to our community kitchen scheme has been incredible and has really brought the people and local businesses together

Paul feels that one of the most inspiring aspects of what The Neighbourhood Kitchen has done is shine a light on the collaboration and community spirit that has been born from one of the hardest and most unexpected challenges of our generation.

Since the project began, three other restaurants have joined forces with them. And thanks to the support of Justgiving and the local community, they have even been able to extend the support to four local food banks and three other local community projects.

“There is support for small businesses out there, with local government helping through grants and other providers such as Liberis helping financially with payment holidays during this crisis. We wanted to find a way to do our bit to support the community that has supported our business for nearly 20 years.

“The response to our community kitchen scheme has been incredible and has really brought the people and local businesses together. We look forward to the day when we can share the magic and warmth of  The Priory Hotel welcome with the public again but until then, we hope to continue our mission to feed as many vulnerable people in our community for the duration of this lockdown and hopefully beyond.”