Simon Boyle – Beyond Food Foundation

Peter Morrell talks to an inspirational social entrepreneur about how he is helping homeless people pursue a meaningful career in catering.

A chance meeting at a wine tasting recently in the Brigade Bar and Bistro near London Bridge revealed an inspirational story of how people in the despair of homelessness are being given the opportunity to become chefs.

I was sitting next to Simon Boyle, owner of Brigade and founder of the Beyond Food Foundation. Using food and cooking he engages with people who would otherwise find it very difficult to get on the job ladder. On the day we met Simon had been hard at work in South London, visiting Job Centres and hostels to recruit people into the first phase of this journey called Freshlife.


Freshlife is a 6-week series of motivational, inspirational and interactive workshop based training sessions. Simon endeavours to put 100 plus participants through the program that includes live cookery demonstrations, a tour of Borough market, a day of classroom learning and working within the kitchens at Brigade as well as being a diner at the restaurant.

The final stage is a two-week pre work placement in which the recruits learn catering skills, work as part of the team at Brigade and study towards a Level 2 Award in Hospitality and Catering delivered by Babcock International. For those who are interested, Freshlife can lead to an interview for the second phase of the process: the United Kitchen apprenticeship.

The United Kitchen apprenticeship

The United Kitchen apprenticeship program is a fully certified course in which up to 14 people are trained over 6 months. They study towards an NVQ Level 2 Diploma in Professional Cookery delivered in house by Babcock International, whilst simultaneously working in the kitchen team at Brigade and learning on the job.

In addition, all apprentices receive one-to-one personal mentoring, and take part in group mentoring sessions that focus on personal development and employability skills, from a Support and Progressions Manager. After 6 months at Brigade, the apprentices move on to complete a further 6 months of work placements with one or two of Beyond Food Foundation’s Employer Partners. During these placements the apprentices continue to learn on the job and can also experience new kitchen environments before taking the leap of returning to full time employment.

Unlike other schemes this programme is meant for older as well as young people and there are already numerous success stories of people establishing their careers in cooking.

The Idea

The genesis of the Beyond Food Foundation was an idea by Chef Founder Simon, who returned from Sri Lanka in 2004, where he had been working to create a relief camp after the Tsunami. He wanted to share his passion for food with people who he thought would benefit from his energy and enthusiasm for cooking.

Simon worked hard to ensure that the Beyond Food Foundation is one part of a three-way partnership between the private, public and third sector to help employability, and social and community inclusion in London. The Foundation is actively supported by De Vere Hotels, Babcock International, Price Waterhouse Coopers, the Homes and Communities Agency and Lambeth Council.

The Realisation

The realisation of the dream was the opening of the Brigade Bar and Bistro by The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, in March 2012 and it has since attracted visits from His Royal Highness, The Duke of York and David Cameron. A spin-off is that Brigade is based in the old Victorian fire station in Tooley Street which has ensured the survival of this heritage building, which dates back to 1879

Simon himself is a total inspiration.  His passion for the Foundation is palpable and despite having endured his own personal adversity in the recent past he is working tirelessly to help and encourage people to join the scheme and make a success of their lives.

One cannot fail to be impressed with Simon and what he has achieved. He is giving people a priceless asset, a unique sense of worth in their lives.

How can you help?

You can get involved with Brigade and the Beyond Food Foundation both actively and passively. Go to where you can volunteer and make a donation.

If you can’t spare the time then why not go and have a meal at Brigade, attend one of their wine tastings or hire one of their private function rooms for a special occasion. Not only do you get a first class culinary experience but you are helping people to create a better life.

To book a table go to

To read a review of the food at Brigade, click here…

And a review of the wine tasting where I met Simon, click here…