It used to be ‘Waste not want not’ – A new Cafe opens in Chester-le-Street

It was warm humid afternoon and I was driving back from lunch when I noticed a new place had opened up in Chester-le-Street. 


The first thing anyone does when they want to find out about anything from illnesses to train times it to get on to Google and research it. If it isn’t on the internet then I want to know more about it especially when it comes to Chester-le-Street. I did find some prior knowledge about the cafe before my visit which helped in understanding a little more about what was taking place.


I find it disturbing and very sad that in one of the wealthiest countries in the world there are still people who are struggling to make ends meet that regularly go without a decent meal. All of us have read stories before about people those who have very little or no income using the facilities of food banks.

Now some organisations have claimed over winter there has been a rise in those who are in paid employment turning to these organisations. We need to be honest an open about how we use AND waste food in the UK. It is reported that up to 7 million tonnes of edible food is being sent to landfill each year while 8.4 million people are regularly going hungry.


I managed to grab some time with a manager who was one of a few dedicated volunteers that set up the cafe. Mim Skinner is one of the people who set up this project and she kindly answered some questions.

Me – What is this cafe all about?

Mim Skinner – It’s a cafe that serves food that normally that would go to landfill food that is surplus from food manufacturers, business or restaurants. One of the biggest of the suppliers that we use at the moment is Amazon who has a food distribution centre in the Team Valley along with a ready meal manufacturer that produces quantity packs of thousands (which some still have use-by dates of up to six months) These will be deemed a surplus to requirement.

Me – It’s not just food that could be going off?

M.S. – There will be stuff that’s passed its best before date as that’s a policy label rather than a safety label. That means you aren’t putting anyone in danger you are using your head you know if some vegetables are wilting we won’t use them but we are happy to serve things that are past their best before date as that is legal. 

Me – So are using food that is surplus and adhering to common sense and hygiene? (I read that they have a 5* rating for food hygiene)

M.S. – We have the same food hygiene and any other guidelines as other catering businesses. In terms of supply and storage and things like that, we have the same rating or better than other catering companies. 

What would be the main message of the company?

M.S. – We can talk about food waste but when you come into the cafe and have a three-course dinner that’s destined to be binned it’s about raising awareness and the environmental side of is a big part of it. The other side of it is about social inclusion. Whether they have time money or skills. 

Me – Is it a free cafe?

M.S. – It’s a not a free cafe. I think if we said that the food is free that means we are saying that the food doesn’t have value. We should be giving back its value and people to have a huge amount of value and that’s not counted by the amount of money that’s in your pocket. We wanted to say that you have something of huge value in their time, skills and in their kindness. You can pay with that … 

Me – I read that you have even catered for weddings.

M.S. – Yeah, we have done four now and a couple of christenings. Weddings are again such fun as it’s a massive statement about food and the quality of food as well.


Me – Is it just in Chester-le-Street or are there other places like this around?

We are part of the ‘Real Junk Food Network’ there are ones that are national and there are ones in Newcastle pop up restaurants and looking to start something more permanent and there are two but our other side of the business is social so this means ‘Pay as you Feel’ they can come if they have time, skills or money. 

Me – I have friends who have kids and they’ve asked about places that are ‘child-friendly’. Are kids okay to visit?

We made the cafe not too tightly packed for two reasons one because we wanted to kids to have space and the other is wheelchair access. There is an area for kids which has toys and colouring. (I mention that some kids I saw were engaged and not bored or being told off by adults.)


Me – Can you take the food away?

People can order take away lunches and takeaway drinks as well that there is as a community fridge which is based on the same principle of ‘Pay as you Feel’ which contains things that people can take home.


Opening hours

Monday Thursday Friday and Saturday – 10 – 4

(They are hoping to open up on a Tuesday as well when they have trained up more volunteers)


Wheelchair access. Yes. No problems. Flat from the street no ramps.

Toilets. Yes. Plus an accessible toilet for wheelchair users. 

Provides for vegan, vegetarians on those on gluten-free diets. 


Walking in to Refuse Cafe I felt an overwhelming sense that you were welcomed those from all backgrounds. No matter what age or nationality, rich or poor and old or young. I made it in mention my background that I was part of the church and I was gay. I was informed that they had also provided some catering for the Pride Event in Durham last week.

Their policy is about inclusion. Everyone should feel welcomed. To me, it’s a refreshing idea. We are living in a time where budgets are tight and there isn’t a huge amount of disposable income. The sensible thing to do it to address this problem by being responsible with the food that we grow and eat.


Does Chester-le-Street need another bar?

Does Chester-le-Street need another place to drink? I love my hometown and happy and proud to live here but does it really need another bar?

There are already ten drinking establishments within a few hundred yards of the proposed site. They have been there for a number of years and I am not including ‘Working men’s clubs’ within the area of the town in this number. Why is it that the council now seem it fit to give permission for another place to drink?

I had a brief search of the proposals and peoples objections to the demolishing of the current premises to be replaced by a new build. I can understand that a building that was built hundreds of years ago needs a lot of care and maintenance. From the reports that have been published, it looks likely that building work that had been carried out was of a poor standard and therefore contributed to the decline of the building.

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Anti-social behaviour, noise, litter and other concerns that have been reported over the years to official associations such as the Police and the council with residents complaining that on occasions the disruption to their lives is unbearable.

I was amazed but not surprised that despite these objections the council has given permission for the site to be flatted and the bar to be built.

There are a number of premises (like other towns) that are empty and have been for some time. What I think is that the council’s motivation for approving this bar is 100% money. There is no nostalgic, sentimental  or even aesthetic part of their plan. They will make the decision on the basis that will this business make money, not for the residents or the people that will work in this establishment but the taxes and rent that the council will receive in funds.  The fact that this will cause problems for the police in anti-social behavious and it’s dealing with is inconsequential to the council.

Sad to say goodbye to another part of Chester-le-Street.

Chester-le-Street film

I have contacted local council regarding filming in the town. I got a rather strange response. 

I thought it would be good to contact the local council to explain about making a film in Chester-le-Street. The response was more for people who are making commercial films such a Vera and Inspector George Gently rather than my amateur effort in preserving a record for the people of the northeast and town.

I am aware of the legalities of filming people. As long as it’s not in a private area (which includes being inside shops/malls) and you are not harassing people it’s okay to film. I am hoping to seek permission to film in some shops and capture ordinary life. I have made a list of the events in and around Chester-le-Street and plan to start filming at the end of the month.

Here is part of the first response I received;

To make a request to film in County Durham here’s what you need to do! Complete the attached filming request form, giving as much detail as possible …

You will also need to send us the following: 

  • Proof of Public Liability Insurance (minimum of £5m cover)
  • Risk Assessment for the filming 

If you intend to use a drone we will need further information such as: 

  • Drone Operators CAA Certificate
  • Risk Assessment and Flight Paths
  • Public Liability Insurance 

The more notice we have the better and we usually ask for at least 2 working days to turn these requests around.  If you have any questions at all by all means email them through. 

Now baring in mind its just going to be me, with a camera and maybe a tripod. So I thought I would reply and explain again that it would just be myself and a camera. It isn’t going to be a commercial enterprise or screened world-wide etc. Just me recording everyday life in Chester-le-Street. Here’s the next reply:

Its ***** here from the Events Team and I help with the coordination of filming requests that come into the Council.

Unfortunately, all requests seeking permission to film on County Council Land need to follow the procedures that my colleague *** pointed out to you and this is regardless of whether the request is from an amateur film maker, Student or a production company. 

Also, with regards to flying your drone around town it’s advisable that before doing so you have the landowners permission.  May I also suggest, if you haven’t already done so, taking a look at the Civil Aviation Authorities website where you will be able to find guidance about flying drones for recreational purposes etc.

I must say I did find the film of Chester le street quite interesting and I can see why you are wanting to make a new film marking 50 years since that first film but unless we receive the details we will not be able to support your request to film.

I quickly fired off an email back asking if they would stop all people using smartphones. I even found a website which marks out what is designated ‘Council land’.

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So as long as I don’t film on carparks, ropery lane cemetery the whole of the bypass, the Riverside ground which includes all of the riverside park, the field where the youth centre once stood, the marketplace, the community centre, the land where the civic centre was, all of land the surrounding Whitehill way, all of the dene (Cong Burn Wood) etc etc etc Here is a link for that map.

Seriously then, what is the point in me trying to make an amateur film for the next generation? I cannot afford public liability insurance let alone the Drone Operators Certificate which costs around £1000-1500 depending on who and where you plan to learn.

The last sentence I found the most ‘disturbing’:

‘I am really sorry that this is not the news you were hoping for, could you perhaps make enquiries with your local Area Action Partnership or Town Council who may be interested in your idea and perhaps be able to help you through the process.’

Town Council? What town council? They got rid of Chester-le-Street Council and put us in the melting pot of Durham Council.

So in 50 years time when people ask, I wonder why no one made a film of Chester-le-Street you can tell them this story.



It’s easier to complain, isn’t it? The weather, news, your street and town. But complaining doesn’t really get you anywhere. 

As I mentioned in my previous post I set up a facebook group to coincide with a twitter account I acquired a few months ago. It’s all about my hometown of Chester-le-Street. I thought it would be a good thing to provide general information. It was great to be able to get out news about weather and roads during the terrible snowstorm that affected most of the country and brought a lot of infrastructure to a standstill.


I thought too that it would be a good thing to capture the spirit of the town to mark fifty years since a film was put together and archived by local cine camera enthusiasts.

The above link is to the film of the town. What I good idea I thought to myself to have something people could see in fifty years time of what life was like in 2018.

The rot started pretty quickly as I asked for people’s ideas about what to film in the town.   Someone started to complain about the empty shops and I should spend my time quizzing local councillors about what they plan to do with the town for the future. I am fully aware that my town like others across the country is facing a huge change due to how people shop for goods and where we spend our money. The traditional shops of the past have gone and replaced by the cheaper out of town retail parks and the obvious use of the internet.

I don’t think any council has the single answer and able to provide full occupancy for shops and businesses it’s a huge balancing act of budgets and cuts from central government. We do have quite a lot as a town.  We are unique as we are close motorway and east coast links. Surrounded by smaller villages the town itself is a direct connection to other major cities in the region.

Nostalgia and the yearning to return to the good old days of the past aren’t simply unhelpful but also unobtainable. The world has changed and for us to survive we have to change too whether we like it or not.

So I say we look to the future with a positive upbeat note. We can achieve good things if each of us is willing to contribute.


There are two things that I adore. Trees and Chester-le-Street. I love them both but if you were to make me choose between them trees would always win. There is something mystical and transfixing about trees that I really love. They are massive. They are sensible enough to cut back on energy use in the winter and then when the warmer weather starts up they will then burst back into life.

I have two trees in my garden the first is a cherry tree that was planted in the year that I moved to my current house. It faithfully blossoms each year and provides rest and space for some of the visiting birds within the garden.


The other tree is a Victoria plum. I bought it years ago from a garden centre who were selling them off cheaply as the poor thing looked like it was on its last legs. It has thrived in my garden and each year displays the most beautiful of blossom. It provides me with satisfaction knowing that I could grow a plum tree well despite my parents telling me years ago that the north east climate was too cold to sustain a fruit baring tree.


It was this in mind I was intrigued to read in the Chester-le-Street Advertiser that land that once held the local voluntary bureau and other charitable organisations was being sold off and that a construction company was going to build houses. My concern is that the beautiful trees that grow there will be cut down or mauled as they have been previously in other areas that Durham County council have sold.

You can see here the trees that stand on this plot and some of them have been clearly marked by spray paint.


Here you can also see the outcome of the council decimating the trees that once stood on land that occupied a council run nursing home. I hope that the council will think clearly about the impact that this causes on the aesthetics and most importantly the environment in Chester-le-Street.



These trees could survive this mauling but I believe there future has already been earmarked. I would like my town to look like the trees that stand opposite the closed nursing home rather that a post-apocalyptic war zone.


the barefoot tree

Still grumpy

Gari Wellingham

UK-based musical theatre geek previously living with a brain tumour!