From prison to packed lunches

After a five year stint in prison, 38-year old Chris Brown turned his life around — vowing to give something back to the city he loves…

Major Joe Anderson and Chris Brown

“My name is Christopher Brown. I am a father of three from Liverpool and the founder of Holiday Hunger, a community interest company.

My business is feeding the most vulnerable children in our city during the school holidays.

My journey didn’t start off as you would imagine.

In June 2013, I was arrested and jailed for conspiracy to supply drugs. During my time in prison, I decided to work on myself as much as possible. I gained catering qualifications and made plans for what I was going to do upon my release.

Prison was not a nice place. Being away from my children and family was difficult. All your humanity is stripped away. You’re just a number. A con.

I had got involved in crime purely for greed. Once you get a taste for that life of easy, fast money, your ego takes over and you get lost in a bubble of self-obsession and worthless material possessions. I had plenty of time, while inside, to think about this, to think about my life and my children and what I could do differently.

I wasn’t decided on what I wanted to do, only that whatever it was would make a social impact in my city. I did a lot of reading and research and came across the problem of holiday hunger. I was completely gobsmacked to find out that children across the city, and across the UK, were going hungry during school holidays. As a father of young children, this hit me hard. This was my calling and I knew I could make a difference.

Fast forward to three months before my release. By chance, I acquired a rundown cafe in Netherton (Bootle) and put my plan into action. All profits from the Gourmet Social Enterprise café go towards Holiday Hunger — feeding those children in the holidays who rely on school meals. I contacted a local school and everything started from there. In December 2018, we had 15 children and our work really began. In February half term, we took on a second school, by Easter, a third and so on. Before we knew it, I had five schools and 75 children to feed.

Seeing up close the problems caused by austerity and the pressure some families are under was truly heartbreaking. I knew we had only just scratched the surface, and I started thinking how to help more widely.

My main problem was money. Being a small social enterprise, 75 meals was pretty much my cap from the profits out of the cafe. Then along came Mayor Joe Anderson. He contacted me and said that the council would get behind me to roll out this project in Liverpool.

This was exactly what I had visualised when I started out on this journey. I didn’t know exactly how it was going to come together, but I knew it would and that we had started something special.

We started planning for the summer holidays. I had meetings with the Mayor and Chief Executive’s Office. This was mind blowing! Seven months prior to this I was in prison and now I was talking about bringing my vision to reality. I was humbled by the professionalism and organisational skills shown by the council. They too wanted the project to make a big impact. We decided that the best way to do this was to involve community centres, so we could deliver meals in multiple locations. We put a call out for volunteers to help make healthy packed lunches every day, with lots of council staff getting involved.

The ‘summer lunch scheme’ was a huge success. We made just over 14,000 meals during the six week holiday in centres from Granby Street to Kirkdale, some of the most deprived areas in the city.

We were back in October half-term to do it all over again — this time making just over 2,000 meals. At Christmas time, as the community centres closed, we put together over 350 hampers instead, to give families a head start for the festive period.

The hampers were packed with tinned food, toiletries, cleaning products, drinks and selection boxes. We also started a collection for toys and cash donations, which netted, in total, 2500 new toys and £3000, which we distributed amongst the seven community centres. The famous, generous Scouse spirit was in full flow!

Liverpool is a city like no other. People get behind a cause, and help the most vulnerable when they need it most.

2019 has been a year I will never forget. We made close to 22,000 meals. Yet we’ve only just scratched the surface.

In 2020, we are hoping to add more centres and reach more families. I worry — like a lot of us do — that more and more children in our city are suffering with poverty and hunger due to the COVID-19 crisis.

I will do everything in my power to help, and to keep our vital Holiday Hunger scheme going for as long as it’s needed.

In the meantime, in these tough times, our city is pulling together, showing its community spirit and its amazing resilience.

We will come out of the other side of COVID-19 to what I hope is a better world.”