For me, an integral part of business is to find ways to ensure that the community we work in somehow benefits from our success. This is not some sort of pious altruism or po-faced preachiness. As well as a food writer and cook I am involved with a community interest company called Agency East. Our focus in that organisation has been to find ways to help communities overcome the challenges of disadvantage. For me this imperative goes back to university where I read some Adam Smith’s ideas in the Wealth of Nations published almost 250 years ago. Like all great thinkers, he’s often conflicted. Smith tells us that it is the ‘invisible hand’ of human intention from which general prosperity emerges:It is not from the benevolence of the butcher, the brewer, or the baker, that we expect our dinner, but from their regard to their own interest. We address ourselves, not to their humanity but to their self-love, and never talk to them of our own necessities but of their advantages. But then in his other seminal work Theory of Moral Sentiments he writes that human nature is not just about self‐interest; it includes sympathy, empathy, friendship, love and the desire for social approval. This is the basic paradox of corporate social responsibility: balancing the books against social benefit. It’s this economy of ‘ideas’ which must flourish if we want to transform the lives of those most in need. Not in a fit of one nation, caring conservatism but in a radical step into the breach of new well-being economics championed by Richard Layard. Happiness starts from the home, community, family and friends and in my book, that starts at the kitchen table.
‘Pop-up’ is very often written up as if it were a passing craze, when in fact it is pure entrepreneurialism. The appetite for risk, to lead the way, to test ideas and to change the status quo. So for PipsDish, part of the business challenge for us while we are at the Garage has been to both test the product and experience for our supporters but also for us to understand whether it is possible for a business like ours to remain financially sustainable and run a social responsibility programme, at the same time.
When we opened last year we launched our ‘Free Lunch Fridays’ project with AGE UK. We recognise that the surplus food we cook, costs us nothing, so that represents a real opportunity to give something back. We are often able to feed far more people than pay to eat at our supperclub style dinners and events. So every week a group of local elderly came over to the garage, enjoy each other’s company and eat lunch with us. Some of these occasions were so much fun, and there would always be a story about someone’s history or a dish from childhood explained. Over the summer we had some Jubilee celebrations with the same age group and we’re now launching the PipsDish Kitchen Table project. Again, every week local groups of elderly will come and eat with us for free. But this time we’re capturing their stories for an online radio project being run by AGE UK called ‘Wireless’.
It’s hard to say how long we’ll be in Upper St. There are plans for big business to take over the site. But whatever happens we’ll have both benefited from the ‘invisible hand’ and to some extent guided its next move. And you have the satisfaction of knowing that every time you eat with us, some of that money genuinely goes back to the community.Articles, Campaigns