Havens Community Hub founder to star in Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me

The founder of the Havens Community Hub is set to star in a new series of Channel 4’s Come Dine With Me – where she will share an important message with viewers.

Tuesday, 3rd August 2021, 10:12 am
Paula Woolven

Paula Woolven, who lives in Telscombe Cliffs, was motivated to go on the show to raise awareness of food waste and the work the hub is doing to prevent it.

Since April 2020, the Havens Community Hub in Thompson Road, Newhaven, has been rescuing food from local supermarkets that has passed its ‘best before’ date – and would otherwise end up in the bin – and getting it to people who need it.

Paula came across an advert seeking contestants for the show from the Brighton area in April, and was sitting in her office when she had the ‘crazy idea’ to take part.

“I thought what better way to get the word out there about what we’re doing,” she said.

“It’s so important. We waste so much food. No one should go hungry when there’s food available. It should go in bellies not bins.”

To highlight the hub’s work, the meal she cooked for her fellow contestants consisted entirely of ingredients that have passed their best before date.

“I wanted to show the quality of the food that was being thrown away,” Paula said.

She explained that while the ‘use by’ date for meat and dairy products means the food could be harmful after that point, the ‘best before’ date just means ‘it’s literally not going to get any better from today - it’s only going to deteriorate in quality’.

A bag of onions can still be eaten for a couple of weeks, Paula said, while an apple ‘still has a week in it’.

Yet supermarkets throw out ‘two to three crates’ of food that has passed its best before date each day, she said.

This food cannot be taken in by foodbanks, which often run just once a week.

Instead, Paula and her team visit the supermarkets at the close of every day, collect the food and distribute it to a priority list of residents which includes elderly people, those in temporary accommodation, people on low incomes and those who have been made redundant during the pandemic - something Paula said was increasing in the area.

Anything left goes into a food pantry where anyone in the community can come and help themselves without needing to prove they are in need.

“For some people there is a stigma in going to a foodbank,” she said. “There shouldn’t be but there is.”

Since starting in April 2020, the team is now repurposing a tonne of food a week from 12 local shops, which was otherwise destined for the bin.

One night the team calculated they had taken in £1,700 worth of food.

Taking part in the filming for the show was a ‘very strange’ experience – and an exhausting one, Paula said.

Due to the pandemic, it was done at one location - a rented Air BnB property north of Brighton - rather than at each contestant’s home.

This was a shame, as Paula said: “Obviously part of the Come Dine With Me experience is that people go round and poke through eachother’s knicker drawers.”

Paula will see the show for the first time when it airs from August 9 to 13.

She said she was ‘completely stressed out’ about how she might come across and would be watching from behind the sofa.

“They filmed all day during my day [of cooking] and filmed me for about six to seven hours every evening. They turn that into half an hour. They are going to take the best bits, the silly bits,” she said.

“I have no idea in what light I’ll be shown, I have no say in the edit whatsoever.”

She said she thinks she will come across as ‘quite silly’ but hopefully ‘genuine, honest, friendly and doing my best’.

“All I can say is I was authentic, I was true to myself and I got my message across,” she said.

Paula hopes the show will get the nation talking about food waste, prompt some supermarkets to take action and maybe even inspire similar initiatives across the country.

While Paula does not consider herself a gourmet chef, she said she went on the show with ‘a bit of hope in my heart’ that she could both share her important message and take home the £1,000 prize – tune in next week to find out whether she did.