‘I’ve cried because I’ve had to turn hungry people away’: Ex-homeless man in desperate fight to keep West London soup kitchen running

An ex-homeless man is fighting to save Hounslow Soup Kitchen from closure after being forced to ‘turn people away’.

Quddous Ahmed, 33, created Hounslow Soup Kitchen (HSK) in 2018 after being made homeless three years earlier.

At its peak during the pandemic, Hounslow Soup Kitchen gave out 130 hot meals to vulnerable families and people across the borough.

However, since April this year, the soup kitchen has been closed due to a shortage of finances.

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The soup kitchen provides food for vulnerable communities across Hounslow

Quddous told My London: “We’ve had to temporarily stop our service. We are funded only by crowdfunding by the community, we don’t have central funding.

“A lot of the time I’ve had to spend money that I’ve earnt because we haven’t had any money.

“It’s always difficult for me to put out an appeal to the public to say I’m out of money and people are calling up for help and I’m having to turn them away.”

Quddous is currently fundraising for £10,000 to cover the cost of food and travel – so far, the kitchen has fundraised more than £2,000.

“I’ve been in tears with our service users because they say ‘I just really want to eat food’ and I have to say ‘sorry’,” said Quddous.

“It’s heart-breaking to be in that position, I don’t know what to say.”

The kitchen provided hot meals during the pandemic

The kitchen provided hot meals during the pandemic

Hounslow Soup Kitchen was initially created to help support homeless communities in West London.

However, during the pandemic, the kitchen expanded its services to help anyone suffering from food poverty by providing hot meals, advice and financial literacy training.

Quddous said: “Food poverty affects millions of people, it can be people that are one bill away from hardship.

“It is people who are in work and out of work, people who are homeless and have homes.”

The 33-year-old added: “We get some people who have special needs, long-term health conditions like cancer, people who are isolated, older people with dementia, people discharged from hospitals who need food for two to three days, mums with kids – anyone can suffer from food poverty.”

Quddous is fundraising for £10,000 to keep the kitchen running

Quddous is fundraising for £10,000 to keep the kitchen running

HSK is not a registered charity and does not receive funding from Hounslow Council. Instead, the kitchen relies solely on donations.

Quddous said he applies “every single year” for funding from the council through their Thriving Communities Fund, but alleges no application has yet been accepted.

He added: “I’ve applied for it every year and they don’t seem to support us.

“The leader of the council doesn’t really like what I’m doing because I’ve called him out…he doesn’t really pay attention to the people suffering on the streets.

“It’s upsetting for me to constantly ask the powers that be to support me when they should be doing that initially. HSK shouldn’t have to exist, but it has to.”

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Quddous Ahmed says he has had to turn hungry people away

Quddous explained how his “lived experience” of homelessness propelled him to help others in need.

“Going on this journey, I’ve learnt so much,” Quddous said.

“Homelessness is such a complex problem to solve. All you can do is create the conditions that can help someone who needs to help themselves – one of those conditions is providing food for people and giving them mental stimulation and hope.”

He added: “Just because you’re going through hardship, it doesn’t mean your whole life is going to be hard.

“There are brighter days ahead, you have to focus on a dream, vision and goal and work everyday to work towards it – that’s the kind of message we give to each of our service users.”

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Councillor Katherine Dunne, Cabinet Member for Communities and Climate Emergency at Hounslow Council, said: “Our voluntary and community groups play an important role in supporting residents, and we are committed supporting them to help build resilient and thriving communities.

“Through the Thriving Communities Fund we have and continue to support the vital work of these groups. Last year over £1 million was invested through the Thriving Communities Fund in charities and voluntary groups who helped countless people.

“The council has also been working with the Hounslow Food Network to better understand the practical actions that need to be taken to address the problem of food insecurity, and in early 2021 we held a series of workshops with food charities and community groups to bring their recommendations and their expertise into a new Food Action Plan.”

Cllr Dunne added: “Hounslow’s Food Action Plan has now been published and the organisations in the Hounslow Food Network have agreed to take the lead on the delivery of the proposed actions in collaboration with the council. Any organisations who wish to be involved can email [email protected].

“We are not aware of any requests of funding from Hounslow Soup Kitchen. Should any local charities/voluntary groups wish to apply for funding I would urge them to look on our website for available funding opportunities.”

The link to the Hounslow Soup Kitchen fundraiser can be found here.

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