SHARP-tongued food critic, William Sitwell, has served up a glowing review for volunteer cooks at one of Royal Voluntary Service’s popular lunch clubs in a new film.

The film is a tongue-in-cheek MasterChef style spoof that follows William as he visits one of Royal Voluntary Service’s lunch clubs in Rickmansworth to enjoy a decadent home-cooked feast of shepherd’s pie and bread and butter pudding.

The film was created as part of a campaign called “Cooking for a Crowd” designed to shine a spotlight on the hundreds of Royal Voluntary Service lunch club volunteers across Britain who gift their time to serve more than 50,000 meals each year to older people in the community. The film was shot at a weekday lunch club where volunteers cooked for the MasterChef judge and their usual crowd of diners.

Originally known as Luncheon Clubs, the first mention of a dedicated Luncheon Club in Royal Voluntary Service’s archive was in Malvern in 1949. Today the charity’s volunteers run nearly 80 lunch clubs across Britain, which provide more than just tasty hot meals to older people in the community. Lots of the members who come live alone, without relatives or a support network nearby, and the clubs are a chance to socialise with others and meet new friends. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is helping Royal Voluntary Service to develop more Lunch Clubs and social activities across the country

William Sitwell, MasterChef critic, award-winning food editor and radio host, said: 

“I have had the good fortune to dine in many of the world’s best restaurants, but when it comes to healthy, hearty food, the Rickmansworth lunch club would be hard to beat. These home-cooked classics, served with spirit and love, are what makes British food the best in the world.“

“Although I was there to try the food, I was really humbled by Tricia and her fellow volunteers and the sense of community and camaraderie among the diners – for many this is their only opportunity to share a meal in the company of others each week.

“We should all take inspiration from Royal Voluntary Service’s volunteers who give their time freely and generously and make amazing things happen in communities up and down Britain.”

Tricia Hegde (66 years old) has been volunteering at the Mill End Lunch Club in Rickmansworth for eight years and appeared unflustered by William’s presence. She said: 

“Having William Sitwell visit felt no different. I’m used to cooking for a crowd, so one more wasn’t going to make much difference. Whether we’re cooking for a MasterChef critic or Kay who lives down the road, we will always put in our best effort.

“My shepherd’s pie and bread and butter pudding is always a hit with our lunch club members and we were absolutely chuffed with William’s rave review. It is fantastic a notable food critic like William has been able to try the lunch club for himself, experience the social atmosphere and gain an understanding of how vital they are to older community members.”

Lunch clubs meet regularly (some daily, some weekly, fortnightly or monthly) and are open to anyone over the age of 50, with attendees able to enjoy a two-course meal for £5.

Rebecca Kennelly, Director of Volunteering, Royal Voluntary Service said: 

“We were very excited when William accepted our invitation to join one of our lunch clubs and experience first-hand the high-quality food and companionship on offer from our amazing volunteers. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery is helping Royal Voluntary Service to develop more Lunch Clubs across the country, which provide more than just a delicious, hearty meal to the 1,300 people who attend each week. For many of the diners, who would otherwise be eating alone, they provide opportunities to make friends, build a support system and help maintain a social connection, which is particularly important in later life.

“We hope this shows just how important lunch clubs are to older people in the community and inspires more people to become members or donate their time to volunteer. We also want to encourage more people to take the lead in their communities, by volunteering to start up their own lunch and social clubs.”

Since his visit to Rickmansworth, William Sitwell has been working with Tricia and other volunteers across the country to compile his favourite Royal Voluntary Service Lunch Club meals into a cookbook, which is now available to download online.

To download the Cooking for a Crowd cookbook or to find out how you can support local lunch clubs in your area visit https://www.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/volunteer/volunteer-at-lunch-clubs

Royal Voluntary Service is one of Britain’s largest volunteering charities with over 20,000 volunteers supporting thousands of people each month in hospitals and in the community.  The simple acts of kindness our volunteers provide, whether popping in for tea and a chat, helping out with a lift to a GP or social appointment or running chair-based exercises on the ward to prevent pyjama paralysis, help make communities stronger and relieve the pressure on overstretched public services. The charity is also one of the largest retailers in the NHS, with its network of cafes and shops providing a valued haven in hospitals.