Friday, September 04, 2015

Refreshment both material and spiritual 
A Hidden Gem and a New Social Enterprise 
The Old School Café, Infirmary Street
Café open 11 am - 3 pm Monday – Friday, continuing beyond the Festivals
Real Junk Food Project - Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays in August
Stars *****
The Old School Café in the South Bridge Community Centre on Infirmary Street was trialled as a Festival café last year.  With the support and facilitation of Canongate Youth, and with People’s Millions Lottery Funding gained through public votes providing sufficient capital funding for the proper fitting out of the café, it re-opened at the end of June 2015: and hoorah! it will continue to be open after all the Festival hoo-hah is over and done with for another year.
It’s a lovely space, and the food and drinks are great.  Whether you just want a quick coffee and a tasty cake or prefer something more filling, there is something for you at an extremely reasonable price – the menu is excellent and varied, with daily hot specials and salads, hot rolls, baked potatoes, soup, superb coffee and an intriguing selection of teas.   Produce is all sourced locally, either from social enterprises such as Breadshare or businesses like Findlays of Portobello and Cuttea Sark (who have produced a bespoke coffee bean for the Old School Café).
The really good thing about the café, though, which sets it apart from most other ones, is that it provides experience, training and qualifications for young people who are looking to learn employability and life skills.  Donna McArdle, superb cook and the mastermind behind the café, enthused about the successful outcomes of a project which “transforms young people who fall out of the school system and can then discover that they are really good at hospitality”, (sometimes in just one or two shifts in the café), adding that working in hospitality services is the one place where, if you are good, you are told so on a daily basis by satisfied customers.
The other intriguing project run by Donna, Charlie Hanks and Aileass Pringle, is the Real Junk Food Project, which intercepts perfectly good food which would otherwise end up as landfill and creates deliciously healthy meals which are then offered on a “pay as you feel able” basis to an ever-growing community of people.  Donna’s main suppliers in Edinburgh are Dig In, Edinburgh Community Food, BreadshareCommunity Bakery, Twelve Triangles and Fruitilicious.
As well as creating fabulous meals and an inclusive community of like-minded (and well-fed!) people of all ages, the project aims to raise awareness of the amount of food waste in this country.  The Real Food Junk Project has been putting on weekly events in a variety of places from April this year, some as fundraisers [e.g. for Nepal], and is offering food and conversation on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday nights in August at the Old School Café.  I had fascinating conversation and a delicious three-course meal at a ‘Mrs Dalloway’-themed evening last week [see images on the Facebook page!], and am looking forward to an entirely different evening this Wednesday.  After August, the themed gatherings will be once a week, on alternating mid-week and weekend days – keep abreast of developments at
Donna McArdle has just been appointed Scottish Coordinator of the Real Junk Food Project, has plans to start something up in other areas including both East and West Lothian.  Get in touch with her if you are interested in starting something up via email:
Dinner with a purpose – feed bellies not bins!  What’s not to like?  Enjoy!!
Mary Woodward


Blogger Claire said...

Written by my mum, not me! But I think it sounds great too.

8:26 am  

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