"It's part of our remit": Chorley's St. Laurence's Church on feeding those in need during the Covid-19 pandemic

Open Table in ChorleyOpen Table in Chorley
Open Table in Chorley
Each Monday evening, St. Laurence’s Church in Chorley manifests the purest form of community expression possible

At 5pm, volunteers from the church provide a three-course meal free of charge to anyone who needs it

Working to ensure that that the most vulnerable in the community have access to a nutritious hot meal, the service is called Open Table and it embodies the concept of ‘love thy neighbour’ about as effectively as can be imagined.

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“I really see Open Table as an extension of the role the church plays in the local community and as one of the core things we offer alongside prayer and worship,” explains Fr. Neil Kelley, who is the Rector of St. Laurence’s and Area Dean of Chorley ” It’s not an extra or an add-on, it’s about serving those outside the church as much as those inside the church.

Father Neil KelleyFather Neil Kelley
Father Neil Kelley

“It’s what I call a gospel imperative: it’s part of our remit,” he adds. “Open Table came from a need to try and provide some hot food for people who are struggling, people who are homeless, and those on low incomes, providing a safe meeting place for people who might also have issues with loneliness.”

Started in 2014, the charity service, which is supported by a collection of local businesses, has continued to operate during the Covid-19 pandemic, switching to a takeaway offering for those in need.

No booking is required - anyone can turn up on a Monday and enjoy a two- or three-course meal free of charge as part of the Open Table service.

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“It’s vitally important that something like this exists because many of us take our food for granted,” says Fr. Neil, before paying tribute to the volunteers and cooks who work on Open Table, in particular Nick Maher. “We go to supermarkets and it’s a given that we have a hot meal at the end of each day, but lots of other people struggle.

Sheila Ginty helping out at Open TableSheila Ginty helping out at Open Table
Sheila Ginty helping out at Open Table

“We were talking about how we could do more to support people with mental health issues before Covid hit, so we tried to provide a safe space for people to come together and just enjoy a bit of company and friendship,” he adds. “That’s a really important angle in terms of meeting the needs of those who are vulnerable and in particular need.”

Seeing it as part of their social responsibility to offer a welcoming environment for the vulnerable, lonely, and isolated in the local community, St. Laurence’s has around 60 volunteers and welcomes around 30 people a week to the Open Table service.

The charity is also kindly supported by a stream of local food donations which help keep the service going and helping those who rely on it.

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“When Covid came, the way we had to operate changed dramatically and we’ve seen an increase in families,” says Fr. Neil, who has been at St. Laurence’s since 2017. “We turned the service into a takeaway so that people were still able to access hot food.

Margaret Shackleton serving David and Karen Spencer at Open TableMargaret Shackleton serving David and Karen Spencer at Open Table
Margaret Shackleton serving David and Karen Spencer at Open Table

“And it’s always very good, home-cooked food like fish and chips with something to drink and something sweet to enjoy,” he continues. “Even though it’s not in the same communal context, we’re still able to provide that food; we’re not a food bank, but we’re available when food banks are closed.”

The church also runs a café on a pay-what-you-can basis every Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday and hosts Watch Us Grow on Saturdays and Sundays, meaning that they are doing sterling work in feeding the community seven days a week.

At the beginning of lockdown in March last year, they also started an emergency food parcel delivery service for those who required it

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“People might be going through furlough, people might not have enough to make ends meet, and people might be struggling with families,” says Fr. Neil. “Chorley is a wonderfully vibrant and diverse town.

“We consider it a privilege to be able to serve our community.”

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