Nestled just inside York's historic walls, Refill does not immediately look like the site of a revolution. But owner Beverley Hadfield is on a mission to change the way we approach food.
A third of all food produced in the UK is wasted – either thrown away by consumers or deemed surplus to requirements by suppliers and supermarkets. We are overproducing and wasting food at an alarming rate that is unsustainable for the planet, even whilst food poverty remains a challenge for many households in the UK.
Through years of volunteering with the Real Junk Food Project, which helps redistribute surplus food, Beverley became aware of the scale of problem we face and was inspired to set up a similar initiative within York, setting up Refill as a CIC in 2019. Although the launch was initially delayed by the COVID-19 pandemic, she took over the premises of 26 Fairfax Street in June 2021.
Refill currently runs three days a week, offering hot drinks, pastries, and lunches – all created out of food rescued from in and around York by Beverley and her team of volunteers. Everything is listed for a fair, affordable price, ensuring the café is accessible to a range of incomes, and all profits are reinvested back into the project to keep it running.
Refill also hosts a Community Fridge, filled with surplus food that users can take home; there's no charge for doing so, and everyone in the community is welcome to use the Fridge, from students to working families. By making the Fridge accessible for all, Beverley hopes to remove the stigma from using free surplus food and diversify the user base, helping bring the community together.
The cafe also functions as a community venue when not serving, offering an affordable space in the city centre for local people to meet for book clubs, craft sessions, and community action.
The donations of food that provide the stock for Refill come from a huge range of sources, including large supermarkets, local allotments, and Brunswick Organic Nursery, a local charity that helps people with learning disabilities develop new skills. Anything that can't be used is picked up by a local composter and goes to make high-quality nutrients for the soil.
Large boards sit behind the counter, detailing how much waste has been averted to landfill so far, helping illustrate both the scale of the problem, and what a difference grassroots initiatives like Refill can make.
Beverley has high hopes for the future of Refill, hoping to expand it to be able to make jams and preserves from surplus fruit and offer zero-waste catering for events, which would provide the revenue for the café to open full-time and offer employment to local people. The café already has a growing presence on social media, and its eco-conscious approach, accessibility, and collaboration with other organisations is a great example of circular economy within the community.
I was really inspired by my work with the Real Junk Food Project, who I had volunteered with for years before starting Refill, and still work with today - we try and ensure all our projects are working together to avoid duplicating effort.
Reaching out to other local businesses and initiatives was also key - lots of my stock comes from local allotments and small businesses; the pastries, for example, are surplus stock from a local baker. But this collaboration comes in at both ends - a local composting champion, John Cossham, picks up what can't be used by the kitchen and puts it into his composting heaps instead, ensuring nothing is wasted.
I would also say a really important part of the work is ensuring that we're breaking down barriers; anyone can come and collect food from our Community Fridge, regardless of income level, and every item on the menu is fairly-priced so that anyone can come in and get a cup of tea without it breaking the bank.