Union StUnion St

By Matt

Fanfare

FANFARE

As we wash our hands of 2016 and welcome the new year with excitement, hope and resolutions aplenty, it seems to be the perfect time for trying new things and embracing fresh opportunities. From signing up to gym classes to ticking off calendar days in the pursuit of a Dry January, it’s a time for implementing change… whether or not we make it to the end of the month is a different matter!

At Union Street there’s always something exciting happening, but it seems especially fitting to be welcoming new plant-based food project FANFARE to the Pop-Up Café line-up this month. There has surely never been a better time to be vegan in Sheffield, with a whole host of events, restaurants, cafés and festivals exploding across South Yorkshire in recent years.

FANFARE’s four-person team comprises Mikk, Ben, Carolyn and Rheanna, and is run as a workers’ co-operative, so the four founders are all on an equal footing when it comes to decision-making. While the quartet certainly share an interest in plant-based diets and wellbeing in general, their different backgrounds and various passions have allowed for each to put their own stamp on the project.

Ben created the initial outline for FANFARE a year ago and for him it was all about creating really exciting plant-based food that packs a punch – food so tasty and healthy that it deserves to be celebrated and served up with a little bit of pizzazz.

First onboard was Mikk, a keen runner and artist. Mikk has his finger on the pulse when it comes to the vegan food scene in the city and even runs his own vegan and vegetarian network on social media.

“It’s an exciting time to be vegan in Sheffield,” he says, “and in the wider society it’s being promoted by all types of people from Hollywood celebrities to elite athletes. People are choosing a vegan lifestyle for all sorts of reasons, whether it’s health or ethics or something else.”

Carolyn has been cooking plant-based food for over 20 years and has travelled the length and breadth of the country visiting vegan shops, restaurants and events. She is a fount of plant-based knowledge and knows exactly what works and what doesn’t in vegan eateries! Over time she has seen the change in availability of ingredients, and loves how accessible it is to follow a plant-based diet today. Ingredients are readily available, chefs are becoming inventive with meat- and dairy-free dishes, and plant-based diets are moving happily into the mainstream.

Rheanna – who came back to her home-town of Sheffield having completed a degree in Culinary Arts and worked in some renowned London kitchens – has a special interest in sugar-free baking and creates divine treats using natural sweeteners instead of refined sugars. She has managed to win over the others with the magical properties of dates in recipes – even self-confessed cake addict Mikk!

The first event for the new team was in Barnsley in October 2016 and they hit the ground running. People loved their vibrant flavour combinations inspired by cuisines all over the world. They were blown away by the reaction from customers, and from this moment on, FANFARE became a reality.

“We’d heard so much about Union Street,” explains Ben, “and we were really keen to get involved here. We had looked at places who might accommodate our pop-up, but Union Street doesn’t just accommodate start-ups, it makes things happen.”

For Mikk, the collaborative atmosphere was a real eye-opener and pleasant surprise: “Other places just want to rent you some space, Union Street want to be involved and provide support in whatever way they can.”

So what is on the menu for FANFARE? The first thing for certain is that it’s going to be filling, dispelling any rabbit food myths, and secondly it will absolutely get your taste buds tingling. The plan is to offer three different bases – rice, tacos or salad – each to be served with a colourful, flavourful, vibrant topping that will be a joy to the eye as much as to the palate. Think along the lines of beer-battered aubergine, smokey pulled jackfruit and pol sambol (a Sri Lankan dish made from lime, coconut and curry leaves), so we’re looking at sizzle, smoke and spice galore. Almost everything on the menu will be gluten-free, too.

Whether you’re a long-standing vegan, getting on board with ‘Veganuary’ or, more importantly, just someone who loves a good plate of tasty, healthy food, then this new pop-up is going to be well worth sampling… let the fanfare commence as they arrive at Union Street on Friday January 27th.

Follow them on social media @fanfareproject to keep up to date with the menu.

By Rohan Kon

Tackling the Tampon Tax: Football for #FreePeriods

Tackling the Tampon Tax: Football for #FreePeriods

 

Tea break with Jane Watkinson, Co-Founder of AFC Unity

 

Years of campaigning for #FreePeriods culminated on Period Pride Day 2016, a national day of action in February when many organisations around the UK simultaneously lobbied the government to remove the so-called “tampon tax”. In reply to this mass activism, the government agreed to scrap the luxury tax on menstrual care products. However, the tax still stands.

 

Paying for menstrual care products, especially with an added luxury tax, contributes to gendered financial inequality. Furthermore, the “tampon tax” is also an intersectional issue because additional difficulties arise if, for example, you are in prison, disabled, a person of colour, trans* and/or homeless. Menstrual care products are often withheld and rationed in prisons, leading to cruel stigmatisation and low self-esteem. Certain disabilities can make menstruating extremely painful and negatively affect people’s mental health. Black Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women earn less than white women, meaning that extra financial inequality hits them harder. Menstruation is consistently discussed in cisnormative terms, actively excluding some people who have periods such as trans men and people with other gender identities. These are just a few matters to consider when contextualising the effects of paying for menstrual care products on the whole population.

 

Another important consideration is that, while being on your period can be uncomfortable for anyone, being on your period while homeless can be a nightmare. Homeless shelters frequently complain that they are in short supply of menstrual care products and the reasons for this are probably threefold. Firstly, people don’t consider the implications of homeless periods. Secondly, people are (perhaps unconsciously) embarrassed to donate menstrual care products due to the stigma which tells us periods are taboo, private and dirty. And finally, they are expensive!!!

 

This is why AFC Unity, a radically alternative women’s football club in Sheffield, are launching their campaign initiative Football for #FreePeriods.

 

AFC Unity were founded in 2014 as an independent women’s football team with feminist politics and a grassroots approach. They are focused on returning the game to its cohesive community origins, empowering women who were historically excluded from the sport. The club run non-competitive “Solidarity Soccer” skills training sessions twice-weekly using Fairtrade balls and ethical kit as well as competing in the Sheffield & Hallamshire Women’s County Football League. Co-Founder Jane Watkinson said: “It’s important to offer an alternative to women’s teams which are dependent upon and overshadowed by their corresponding men’s team. Women’s teams are too often seen as ‘add-ons’ to men’s clubs, sometimes used as cash cows to bring funding into the club rather than being driven by a value system shaped by the interests of women and by a real desire to develop the women’s game in a positive way.”

 

There are other teams around the country embracing a similar ethos such as Easton Cowgirls in Bristol and Republica Internationale in Leeds. Jane said: “It is important for women’s teams to have a feminist identity so that we challenge concepts of what a ‘woman’ is and does and also foster an environment of empowerment and positivity through skill sharing, collectivity and helping create positive role models that will hopefully help influence girls wanting to get involved in the sport. Football can affect wider things than what happens on a pitch for 90 minutes.”

 

AFC Unity run community projects to promote their values of empowering women, tackling gender misconceptions, promoting social justice and opposing oppression. Jane said: “We started our weekly Football for Food campaign in 2015 encouraging players, fans and spectators to make donations for food banks before our home games. It was after our first season and we wanted to do something that put our ethics into practice. The increasing scale and extent of food poverty and the use of food banks drove our desire to help make a difference to our local community, making real tangible links between football and the ability to achieve social change. Not only have we collected over 800kg of food since running the campaign, but we have also raised awareness of the reasons for using food banks, challenging myths and stereotypes.”

 

In response to the “tampon tax”, AFC Unity are now developing Football for Food to incorporate the #FreePeriods movement, encouraging donations of tampons and pads for homeless shelters. They aim to fight period stigma, make a stand against the continuing tax and help people in need. Jane said: “The initiative ties in Football for Food with our unique feminist vision. It helps highlight awareness of period shame and so helps tackle this while also highlighting the expense of such necessary products.”

 

Allowing the topic of periods to be taboo leads to body shame as well as silence on the issue of the tax. Jane said: “#FreePeriods is about us being confident and happy with our bodies, embracing it, and being confident enough to talk about periods and issues associated with it – especially when historically women have faced abuse and oppression for things such as periods. For example, the stigma surrounding periods relates to the idea that women are ‘weak’ and ‘hysterical’ which is a stereotype we are dedicated to eradicating.”

 

Jane explained why people should get involved in AFC Unity, saying: “We offer something for everyone. Whether you have never kicked a ball and are wanting to give it a go, are returning from an injury or have played 11-a-side football and want to be part of a club that has an alternative, positive and inclusive coaching style and philosophy. You don’t get shouted at for making mistakes and you can be creative and enjoy your football. Also, even if you don’t like to play football, we have a range of volunteering opportunities such as with Football for #FreePeriods, sports journalism, sports psychology, sports physiotherapy and more.”

 

Jane made a final appeal that is relevant to us all. She said: “When donating to homeless shelters and food banks this winter, please remember a box of menstrual care products alongside your warm clothes and blankets. It might be just the gift someone needs this holiday season.”

 

AFC Unity founders co-work at Union St as they are hoping to expand their network to involve more women from across the city. Follow them on Twitter and Facebook.

By Rohan Kon

Keeping Up the Momentum

Keeping Up the Momentum

Tea Break with Liam J Liburd, Founder of Momentum Sheffield

In the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential victory, left-wingers on both sides of The Pond are despairing at the violent swing to the right we’ve seen sweeping the Western world this year. Americans voted Trump while Brits chose Brexit. And as their Trump cosies up with our Nigel Farage, people ask in dismay: What went so wrong?

 

The answer for some Democrats is that Hillary Clinton wasn’t enough to inspire and unite the masses of disillusioned Americans. They say that posing a more genuinely radical left-wing option, in the form of Bernie Sanders perhaps, would have won them the vote. In the slow lead up to our next election, can the UK learn from America’s mistakes? If Farage is our Trump, is Jeremy Corbyn our Bernie Sanders? If the left unite to back Corbyn, do we have the opportunity to pose a credible alternative candidate to rising austerity, injustice and inequality?

 

Liam J Liburd, one of the founders of Momentum Sheffield, believes that the movement building behind Jeremy Corbyn gives us a reason to be hopeful. Momentum was set up as a Labour-left faction group in the wake of Corbyn’s election as Labour leader last year. Liam said: “Momentum’s aim is to ensure the ideas expressed on Corbyn’s platform, in his election last year and again this year, become Labour Party policy. More widely, Momentum exists to democratise the Labour Party.”

 

While Labour has seen an unprecedented rise in membership since Corbyn became leader, Liam joined a year before Corbyn’s emergence. He said:  “I joined because I thought Ed Miliband ought to win the General Election. I live in the Hallam constituency and we campaigned to try and beat Nick Clegg. Although we were unfortunately unsuccessful, it was a great local campaign. However, what I saw from Labour on a national level did not meet my local experience. I remember remarks such as that from Rachel Reeves, who was the Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions, saying that ‘the Labour Party is a party for working people’, actively excluding anyone who is not actually currently in work. Similarly, there were the ‘controls on immigration’ mugs. There were various things during the election campaign that made me think, ‘Who is making these decisions?’”

 

After the General Election, Liam helped set up a meeting of left-wing members of the Labour Party in Sheffield. By the time they met, Ed Miliband had resigned and the leadership contest had begun. Liam said: “When Jeremy Corbyn came onto the scene, quickly getting enough nominations to appear on the ballot paper, our meeting turned into a ‘How do we start a Corbyn campaign group?’ meeting. We organised Corbyn’s first rally in Sheffield in Tudor Square with an indoor event in the Crucible theatre in August 2015 which was attended by over 1,500 people. On that day I was told that an initiative was beginning to build to mobilise the passion of this movement – and that was Momentum.”

 

This summer Momentum Sheffield held a highly successful rally with Corbyn at Barker’s Pool with an estimated turnout of 3,000 people. Liam said: “I walked to the steps of the City Hall to meet other Momentum stewards and I looked out – not at Corbyn or any of the people on the stage – but at all the people. You couldn’t see a piece of ground. That crowd, awash with working-class people, middle-class people, elderly people, children, disabled people, university and sixth-form students and everyone inbetween, made me realise we could win. Rallies aren’t everything but it helps people to stop thinking of politics as something you do on the internet, alone. Our campaigning needs to reflect this excitement.”

 

Liam described his experience of Corbyn’s personality at the rally, saying: “Another highlight was trying to get Corbyn from the steps of the City Hall to his taxi. It took us 15 minutes to get him from the top to the bottom of the steps! I’ve never known a politician in recent British history who stopped and had proper conversations with everyone who wanted to talk to him. He is a genuinely good person. I feel like people usually say that as a prelude to ‘but he’s not a very good leader!’ But why have we normalised the idea that our politicians should be borderline psychopaths? If being egotistical, vicious and media savvy makes a good leader then… well there you have Donald Trump.”

 

After another Corbyn leadership victory with an increased mandate in September this year, the movement behind it all now faces various challenges. Liam said: “A challenge going forward for both Momentum and the wider Labour Party is, ‘How do we reach out and engage with our members to mobilise them?’ The banning of Labour Party meetings during this year’s leadership election has brewed a nasty atmosphere. All the debates that could have been had face-to-face have been had online which is just not a good place to have those debates. Bad attitudes between pro-Corbyners and Corbyn-sceptics haven’t been resolved. We need to work out how we’re going to sit in the same room again.”

 

But Liam thinks that unity is an issue which increasingly lies less with members and more with the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP). He said: “An attitude we really need to reject is the whole ‘Corbyn can’t be Prime Minister because his MPs won’t work for him’ rhetoric. That’s blackmail, isn’t it? It dismays me that MPs were able to sit through all the Tony Blair years but they can’t stick a socialist. Even those who may have protested Blair did not do so to the same degree or with the same level of vitriolic outrage that they are doing with Corbyn. Surely the only issue that separates most of the PLP from Corbyn is their foreign policy issues; the rest I would hope they’d be in accord with! The shock at the number of socialists in the Labour Party has been odd… It is the British democratic socialist party after all.”

 

Corbyn’s following has been described as an idealistic cult which makes the Labour Party unelectable. Liam responded: “There are people who won’t hear a word said against Corbyn, I won’t deny it. But they are a minority. Accusations that a mass movement is a ‘cult’ is a very elitist, liberal critique. It’s a right-wing notion to look at lots of people supporting something and see an unthinking mob. That’s the same thing people said about the Chartists, the Suffragettes, and every mass movement for democracy ever. I wonder whether people inside the Labour Party using that criticism understand the significance of what they are saying?”

 

Liam declared an urgent call to action. He said: “We’ve got to be the flip of UKIP now. They’ve gone into forgotten communities and got them politically interested, as a result moving the Conservative Party to the right. We need to put a progressive, socialist alternative forward, rather than a reactionary, libertarian, violently capitalist one. We need people to be excited about politics again. You can be part of it. If you want a society where services work, where your train fare is logically priced, where you can get a decent secure job and education at a low cost, if you want positive communities where people are free and equal, you should get involved.”

 

Momentum Sheffield meet regularly at Union St. Like their Facebook page, join the group and follow them on Twitter for more information.

By Rohan Kon

Politics for Everybody?

Politics for Everybody?

 

Tea Break with Charlotte Mead, Women’s Equality Party Sheffield Branch Leader

 

In our postmillennial world of Twitter trends and trolls, issues of women’s equality are firmly back at the top of political agendas, making media headlines and sparking explosive campaigns.

 

Women’s equality is no longer shied away from as a retro issue from the ‘70s. The insistent cries that we live in a “post-feminist” world have lost their edge, as current stats show that approximately 85,000 women are raped in the UK every year and domestic abuse will affect at least 1 in 4 women in their lifetime. Instead we are seeing campaigners tackling these issues head on, fighting for LGBT+ inclusive healthy sex and relationships education in schools.

 

The topic of women’s equality is more mainstream and popular than ever before. From Beyoncé reclaiming “the F-Word” in her 2014 VMA performance, to outcry this summer over the Islamophobic and sexist burkini ban. From the rise of direct action group Sisters Uncut supporting domestic violence survivors, to US artistic gymnast Simone Biles declaring: “I’m not the next Usain Bolt, I’m the first Simone Biles”.

 

And the political landscape is no exception. We’ve seen rows over women’s equality on both sides of mainstream party politics, with the Conservatives electing a woman Prime Minister who “allowed state-sanctioned abuse of women” at Yarl’s Wood Immigration Removal Centre and media stereotyping of Diane Abbott as the “Angry Black Woman” over her in-fighting with fellow Labour MP Jess Phillips.

 

But perhaps there is another option for those of us seeking a political party that will put issues of women’s equality at the centre of all that they do. The Women’s Equality Party (WEP) was launched last year after the General Election as a reaction against a politics that offered little hope to a growing group of people yearning for social change, inclusion and collective decision-making.

 

Charlotte Mead, Sheffield WEP Branch Leader, had never been a member of a political party before joining WEP last year. After being involved in student politics as Women’s Officer and then President of Sheffield Hallam University over 20 years ago, Charlotte felt disillusioned by party politics until what she saw as a viable alternative emerged. She said: “We’re trying to do things differently so that politics works better for everybody, not just a small group of people.”

 

Starting very small, the party grew by setting up branches around the country to devise and work towards six objectives: equal representation, equal pay and opportunity, equal parenting and caregiving, equal education, equal media treatment and an end to violence against women. They will discuss adding a seventh objective relating to health at their first party conference on the 25-27th November in Manchester, which will be attended by a good contingent from Sheffield. Charlotte said: “Everything I’d previously seen about political parties is that they told you what to say, how to vote, what to do and what you weren’t allowed to do – and actually they were quite restrictive. But WEP isn’t like that. Everybody involved gets their say and it’s more collective than hierarchical.”

 

During the formative stages of the party there was a lot of discussion about the name. Charlotte explained: “The philosophy of the party is that having gender equality is beneficial to all genders. But we’re specifically focused on the fact that women lose out most because of gender inequality. There have been a lot of negative connotations around the term ‘feminist’. If anyone asked me if I’m a feminist I’d say, ‘Yes of course I am’. But some people who you might think are feminists don’t like the term. People get distracted from the issue of equality and while we’re arguing about whether or not feminists shave their armpits, we’re not challenging the status quo. For some people the term ‘feminist’ doesn’t just mean, ‘I believe in gender equality’. While there will always be a group of people who would like it to be called the ‘Feminist Party’, there are an equal amount of people who would be put off by that and we want to appeal to everybody who has the same ideals as us.”

 

Paul Blomfield, the MP for Sheffield Central, held his annual Big Conversation for Women event a few weeks ago where Kate Green MP said “the party for women’s equality is the Labour Party”. But Charlotte responded: “The Labour Party have had a lot of time to sort out equality and they haven’t. The Labour Party does have a women problem and for them to deny that is only a continuation of the problem. That said, we’re completely up for working with any party with the same aims as us. We want to get things done through collaboration. We’re not all separate groups of people – the wider community and political parties can all work on things together, even when we disagree about some things. While political parties are bickering in Parliament, two women a week are still getting killed by their partners and ex-partners and there are women’s services shutting down everywhere. It’s not good enough.”

 

Charlotte talked about issues facing women in Sheffield, such as street harassment. She said: “We’re currently launching a campaign working with the police to get misogyny recognised as a hate crime in Sheffield. It happens so much that it’s been normalised, but it’s not okay for this to be part of women’s normal experience. People always talk about ‘angry young people’, but actually I find that I’m far angrier about things now, in my early 40s, because things still haven’t changed.”

 

WEP has come under criticism for focusing only on issues affecting white middle-class women. Charlotte emphasised WEP’s short history, saying: “We don’t have everything right at the moment, we’re just starting out.  But I would say that issues like violence against women, equal pay, and equal representation know no class, race or economic boundaries. Equality is about treating people fairly and respectfully, while valuing diversity. We’re learning as we go along. As a party we need to ensure we encompass the voices of all women and we have a strong plan for that. I can definitely see WEP running campaigns in the future targeted at supporting specific groups, for example BME and LGBT+ women. At Sheffield we have ‘How can we be more diverse and inclusive?’ on the agenda of every single meeting. That’s one of the reasons we alternate between meeting at Union St and different places around the city like the Broomhall Community Centre and Sharrow Old School, as these areas are diverse and we can engage more with other marginalised groups.”

 

Charlotte explained why the people of Sheffield should join WEP, saying: “We’ve been waiting a very long time for someone to give us equality and it’s not happened. We all have the power to change the system, but you have to take that power, a proactive step and a leap of faith – you have to be one of the people that creates change. The WEP is unlike any other party. You will not meet a more welcoming, warm, enthusiastic and supportive bunch of people. Everybody is very welcome.”

 

WEP Sheffield’s next meeting is on November 1st at Union St. Like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter for more information.

By Kate Reeves-Brown

Monday’s Masterchef: Chris Hale

Adding the final ingredient to the new five-day line up, Chris Hale is getting everything prepared for his debut at Union Street’s Pop-Up Café. If he looks familiar, it’s because he probably is… Chris took a bit of Yorkshire flair right to the MasterChef 2016 quarter finals, wowing the judges and viewers alike with his self-taught culinary skills.

We all drooled over his dishes on TV, but now it’s time for Gregg and John to step aside and let the good folk of Sheffield get stuck in every Monday lunch time.

It’s been a crazy few months for Chris since his MasterChef experience and, he admits, an unexpected one at that! A skilled and passionate home cook, it was his wife who actually entered him for TV’s much celebrated cooking contest. In fact, when Chris first received the phone call from the BBC, he was quite sure they’d got the wrong number!

When he’s not experimenting with adventurous new recipes in his kitchen, Chris runs his own altitude-training company. Being self-employed has allowed him the freedom to dedicate some of his time to the myriad new and exciting opportunities that came his way in the foodie world since he appeared on the show – the highlight of which was cooking for 2000 people on the beach in Cannes with a group of top chefs.

His eyes were opened to just how incredible catering can be, and he returned to Yorkshire brimming with ideas and inspiration. From private dining to pop-up restaurants, he’s been trying his hand at an array of things, and so far is yet to cook the same dish twice. It is that versatility that he really loves about cooking, and it has been his private dining events that have really allowed him to showcase his originality and imagination. One of his favourites was a celebration menu for a 90th birthday – he came up with a nine-course tasting menu which took her through every decade of her life, dish by dish.

Although from Wakefield, Chris has become a familiar face in the Sheffield food scene. The locals have welcomed him with open arms and adventurous palates, and he praises the support he has received from the council and the community of independent food traders.

The first event he held at Union Street was a complete sell-out. An exquisite gin-pairing menu consisting of canapés served with a Sorrento Collins, gravlax with gin and tarragon sours, venison bourguignon with sloe gin, and gin and tonic ice cream floats… it’s easy to see why he has become known for his ingenious, dare-to-be-different combinations.

So what was it about Union Street that attracted him to the venue as a place to host his Pop Up North events?

“It’s a really cool venue”, he explains. “It’s close to the train station, it’s central, it just fits the vibe of what we’re trying to do – chilled, social dining.”

His first event was a shining example of how high-end food can be enjoyed in a relaxed and vibrant space. The incredible success continued when the second event, an Italian-inspired vegan menu, also sold out and received fantastic reviews.

Building on this success, Chris was delighted to join the lunch-time line-up at Union Street’s Pop-Up Café and will take over the Monday slot on a weekly basis.

“The only downside to catering is that it always tends to be on weekends, so I am really looking forward to having a regular spot here each week. It will be great to have more time to chat to people – it’s a great social space.”

So far people have been really receptive to his bold flavours and experimental ingredients, and he has no plans to change his approach. So although we’ll be seeing him regularly, don’t expect to get the same mouthful of food twice.

He plans to take us on a culinary tour of Asia through the concept of noodle broths. “Essentially it’s going to be a posh pot noodle,” he jokes. There will be a three broth options and three noodle options to choose from and we can expect authentic flavours from places such as Thailand, Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia and Malaysia. He is off on a mammoth trip around Asia over Christmas for his honeymoon and he plans to come back with a suitcase full of ingredients and a note pad full of ideas!

Chris’s pop-up starts with a taste of Japan on Monday 31st October, where we will be able to choose from a noodle selection containing either chicken, prawn or wild mushroom, and pair it with either shiitake dashi, miso kombu or jasmine chicken broth. Just fancy a nibble? There will also be sushi on offer – tuna nori rolls, vegetable nori rolls and salmon nigiri.

I can’t think of a more delicious and nutritious way to get over the Monday blues!

By Matt

Tea break with: The Pasta Masta

We are surrounded by world foods these days. We’re spoilt for choice in fact, with everything from Korean Kimchi to Mexican Mole vying for a turn to tempt our taste buds as never-ending waves of exotic flavours hit our towns. We Brits have never shied away from new tastes, however, there are some cuisines that have become so ingrained in our culture, it’s hard to imagine they were once thought of as foreign fare.

Our favourite meal? Plenty will argue for the great British curry, but I’m pretty sure that pasta is right up there on our most-loved meals. From the candle-lit Italian restaurant to spag bol at the kitchen table, we can’t get enough of the stuff. It’s enjoyed by everyone from pre-schoolers to pensioners, and it’s the unsung hero of many a successful university experience, sustaining skint students with comforting carbs at all times of day.

In fact, Stevie-Lee Clark’s friends from University could probably have predicted his transformation to Pasta Masta long before his street food business launched onto Sheffield’s food scene. Back in his student days he was famous for tucking into the Italian staple at least five times a week, filling up on hearty bowlfuls to power him through his studies.

After he graduated, Stevie-Lee had ambitions to run his own business. When his mum suggested the two of them go into business together, it was an opportunity that he simply couldn’t pass up. The pair always had event catering in their sights: “We are both massive fans of live music, festivals and events and we had talked for ages about starting our own catering business.”

However, the idea really came to fruition when Stevie-Lee was at The Secret Garden Party in 2015. Having spent what seemed like an eternity in a queue, he handed over a shocking amount of money in exchange for one of the most disappointing sandwiches of his life. At that point, Steve’s dissatisfied stomach, empty wallet and entrepreneurial spirit all agreed that he could offer something so much better than that.

I was thinking about all the street food stalls and it occurred to me that you never see pasta being dished up outside of restaurants. It seemed a bit bizarre – it’s my favourite food and I know it’s a lot of people’s go-to comfort food, too.” In fact, it occurred to Stevie-Lee that (with the exception of those intolerant to gluten) he had never met anybody who doesn’t actually like Italy’s greatest export.

Soon after, Pasta Masta was born. (So we all have a lot to thank that overpriced sandwich for!) For Stevie-Lee, making sure he could offer good-value grub became really important, so the food he served had to be delicious, filling and offer good value money.

To ensure the pasta was going to be dished up fresh and hot, Stevie-Lee had some serious culinary logistics to consider. After much research, he invested in a trailer that would become the perfect home for the Pasta Masta. Stripped back to basics then lovingly kitted out with shiny stainless steel and a solid wood counter, he created a portable kitchen that could house all his cooking equipment.

Clean, fresh, bright and welcoming, the trailer was exactly what Stevie-Lee wanted for his brand. The blue background and modern logo stands out amongst the plethora of burger vans and American meat stalls that tend to populate foodie events.

Pasta Masta’s brand new trailer was ready for its first outing at the Highland Fling in Graves Park in May but, looking back, Stevie-Lee admits it’s been a bit of a blur since then. “Since we launched, it has been crazy. We have had a packed diary of events all summer and our food has been more popular than I ever could have imagined it would be.”

At Tramlines we had people queuing for up to 45 minutes, which gave us a real taster of how crazy this business can be.” In fact, Tramlines customers gobbled a whopping 70kg of pasta from Pasta Masta – no wonder it is all a bit of a blur!

To ensure people get their food as speedily as possible, Stevie-Lee is helped out by girlfriend Rebecca and mum Karen. A human conveyor belt, Steve dishes up the pasta (diners can choose from white or wholemeal), Rebecca tops it with the sauce (he currently offers five veggie-friendly options of Napoletana, Hidden Veg, Two Cheese, Creamy Mushroom and his five-year-old nephew’s top choice of butter and marmite – named Charlie’s Favourite), and Karen is on hand to add those enticing extras (cheddar, mozzarella, Parmesan, olives and jalapeños).

The pasta can also be given a local twist with a few shakes of Henderson’s for those who want to eat it Sheffield-style. Something you probably don’t get in Napoli!

This is the perfect job for a mother and son who are as passionate about the events themselves as they are about the food they serve up. “It’s such a fantastic thing to be a part of. The atmosphere is alive and people are happy, so it’s great to be serving up food to queues of people who are in the middle of having a great day out.”

What the customers don’t see during the excitement of food festivals and events is the tremendously long hours Stevie-Lee spends on preparation. Before this year’s Tramlines, the Pasta Masta spent three days part-cooking and portioning pasta ready for the weekend.

For Stevie-Lee, though, the experience so far has made all the hard work worth it, and he has plenty of ideas for the future. “The next thing I want to focus on is getting gluten-free pasta as an option very soon,” he explains, so we’ll be keeping our eye out for that over the summer, as Pasta Masta pops up at events around the city.

Most excitingly, he will be launching a regular weekly pop-up café at Union Street starting on Wednesday 17th August, where he hopes to satisfy the midday hunger pangs of the city’s workers with a little taste of Italy… Sheffield-style. You can also follow Pasta Masta on Twitter here and Facebook here.

By Matt

Tea Break with: Sophie Lane of Slaaw

Slaaw

It’s mid-July and just when we were about to give up all hope of ever removing our waterproofs, the summer has finally decided to show its face with an apologetic shrug of the shoulders and a few days of blissful sunshine. Across the city, people are inspired to ditch the hot dinners and indulge in something light, bright and healthy – a mood that recent graduate and travel-loving foodie Sophie is keen to capture.

Sophie is the fresh face behind Sheffield’s newest pop-up, Slaaw. Bright, energetic and full of ideas, she has made the humble salad the star of her culinary show – bringing it into the limelight after years of sitting limply on the side-lines as an obligatory garnish.

 

 

 

 

She graduated from Sheffield Hallam University in 2015 and set off inter-railing around Europe, munching her way from country to country sampling the best local dishes as she went. When she returned to Sheffield and the realities of a 9-5 office job, Sophie struggled with adapting to the endless days tucked away behind a desk.

“I was always dreaming about starting my own business,” she explains, and during a short break in Copenhagen this year, Sophie was hit with the realisation that she could actually give it a shot. “I was standing in this incredible salad bar in Copenhagen, surrounded by the most colourful and exciting selection of ingredients I’d ever seen. There were vegetables I didn’t even recognise sitting side by side with familiar favourites that had been turned into really amazing-looking dishes. I was just blown away by it.”

Having grown up in a family where wholesome home-cooking was the norm, she had always been a lover of nutritious nosh. However, what inspired her most was the striking visual effects that fresh, vibrant ingredients had on the plate (and palate!) – people do eat first with their eyes after all.

She set about creating Slaaw – an exciting move from the office to the kitchen, where the next few weeks of her life were spent peeling, chopping, spiralising, mixing and marinating. When she launched her first stall at the Sheffield Food Festival in May 2016, she was taken aback by the reception her salads got and she paid close attention to what worked and what didn’t.

“People loved the colourful salads. You could see their eyes drawn to those things on the stall that were most visually appealing. And they also loved to mix and match.” Sophie found that people loved her bold flavour combinations as much as she did.

 

Salads suddenly didn’t have to be all about healthy-eating or ‘diet food’. Wholesome, yes. Fresh, of course. Packed full of nutrients, sure. But they are also delicious and filling, with the option of adding toppings like chia seeds, cheese and chicken.

“I enjoy mixing and matching flavours from around the world,” she enthuses, and just looking at some of her favourite salads, her love of travelling is obvious – her ever-popular Raw Thai Salad sits beautifully next to Get Freekeh and Mexican Quinoa. “I try to make sure that all the colours of the dish complement each other. I get really excited about interesting coloured ingredients like candied beetroot, which just look so beautifully appetizing.”

Since the Sheffield Food Festival, Slaaw has been popping up at various events, from Go Sky Ride to Nether Edge Market. She sold out within a couple of hours at Sharrowvale Market and now has two wedding bookings in the diary.

Slaaw salads are now available at Ink and Water, which is something Sophie is really proud of – with its design focus, could there be a better place to launch her edible arty ensembles?

So what’s next for Sheffield’s newest start-up? Luckily for those working in town, she’ll be setting up in the ground floor of Union Street every Tuesday from Tuesday 26th July, where she plans to try out some exciting new creations. Not one for sitting back and admiring her success so far, Sophie has a million ambitions, plans and ideas bubbling away.

 

Her bliss balls (not-so-naughty sweet treats) are her newest invention. The lemon and coconut ball looks and tastes too good to be healthy, but Sophie ensures us that this is thanks to the natural goodness of dates and cashews. Never has a burst of protein-packed energy tasted so good.

In the long term? “I would love to study to become a health coach. I am really interested in the whole-person approach to health. It’s not just about diet or exercise, or even both. I like the idea of bringing vitality and happiness to life through everything we do – and that is something that can partly come from the food we eat. If tucking into one of my salads can play a small part in someone’s overall well-being, than that is fantastic.”

You can sample one of Slaaw’s salads every Tuesday at Union Street, from 26th July.

 

You can sample one of Slaaw’s salads on Tuesday 26th July at Union St, and follow Slaaw

on Instagram here, Twitter here, Facebook here, and on the website here

(all links open as a new window)

 

Article written and editted by Kate Reeves-Brown, a freelance food writer based at Union St;

https://twitter.com/katereevesbrown

By Matt

Sunday Times feature on co-working at Union St

Sharing offices offers a cheap and nurturing environment for fledgling bosses, writes Emma Broomfield of the Sunday Times.

Sian Thomas relishes the chance to start the day with a communal cuppa. After leaving a full-time job to set up her own business, she expected to miss having colleagues to bounce ideas off – and to share the coffee run with – but she need not have worried.

 

Read a high resolution copy of the article here, and follow Emma Broomfield at https://twitter.com/Broom_Cupboard

By Matt

Tea Break with: Jane Mitchell of MindBodyFeeling

These days it can seem like ‘Mindfulnesshas become the latest buzzword. We know it means something about being in the moment, but were a little hazy on the details. Management gurus are fond of flinging the phrase about, and someone somewhere at a trendy party right now is swearing it worked wonders for them and their dog. I do know theres an app for it.

Mindfulness is not a new concept, however – nor is it a trend. It has its roots deep in Buddhism and has been practised for years as a means of both focusing and calming the mind. Its key tenet is awareness: of oneself and of the world around us. A simple enough idea, but one that can take a lifetime to truly master – like chess, perhaps, but with more action.

Breathworks is an organisation that brings the Buddhist lessons of mindfulness into a secular world. It was developed by Vidyamala Burch, who has lived with chronic pain most of her life since suffering spinal injuries as a teenager. The approach has a distinctly practical focus for dealing with physical pain and psychological stress in everyday life; but it is also anchored in the spiritual roots which it came from.

For Jane Mitchell, a learning disability specialist nurse and student of the Breathworks Teacher Training Programme, an understanding of these empathetic foundations is crucial to the practice of mindfulness.

“I worry that there are courses out there where it’s being done as a tool to change people or to have an outcome through a workplace,” she says, when we meet over an after-work drink at a local pub. “That really isn’t where it’s coming from: it should never be done without the compassion element.”

“I’m interested to see the different types of people that might come,” she tells me. “I feel like it’s a good fit with Union St, attracting different sorts of people. I think there can also be a sort of stigma around people that sit around and meditate, or people might see it as sort of serious – but I want the workshops to be really informal.”

The benefit of meditation and of mindfulness is one that holds personal resonance for Jane. She moved down to London after she qualified as a nurse – but after returning to Sheffield in 2007 she realised that much of the initial move had been a running away, and began focusing on squaring up to the elements in her life that she had been turning away from.

“I just had this realisation that anxiety and stress had been a big part of my life – but I hadn’t really acknowledged or understood how much that was influencing the way I was, the way I was interacting with the world.”

Mindfulness was one of several avenues she explored. She came to it via the Sheffield Buddhist Centre – but it wasn’t until she did a Breathworks course that something really clicked for her.

Of the divide between spiritual and secular approaches she notes: “Although it’s a secular organisation, they are doing it very much with a lot of knowledge and background of where it’s come from; and that’s really important.”

Again, the need for compassion – towards oneself and the world – is crucial. Mindfulness is not about getting anywhere else: it is not about accelerating. In many respects, it is the antithesis of our accolade-heavy, achievement-driven world, where the outcome is king.

Jane cites the analogy of a snow-globe. When the globe is shaken, the flakes of snow are in chaos. That, she says, is our mind in its unharnessed state. Mindfulness is when the flakes come to rest on the base: they are still present, but they have settled. The chaos has cleared.

“Some people think mindfulness is about emptying your mind, but that’s not possible at all. It’s awareness: awareness of your thoughts, of your body, and of your emotions; and it always incorporates all of those things and it’s about looking at all of those things in a non-judgemental way.”

As a learning disability nurse taking care of children with neuro-disabilities, Jane is no stranger to the effects of either stress or chaos. The Breathworks training and her meditation practice has made her aware not only of the benefits for herself, but for others as well.

“In my job I see people that are carrying an awful lot of stress and how that impacts them. I think the modern world is a very stressful one to be in – there’s a lot about achieving and people are very busy, so there’s very little time to think about what you’re doing. People are operating on a kind of autopilot.”

The idea of setting oneself apart from achievement is very important: the notion of not fixating on an end goal, but appreciating the present moment in its singularity. Observing yourself, rather than being absorbed by it, is our ticket out of here.

“The focus of the workshop is about becoming an observer of what’s going on in your mind and body,” says Jane. “So instead of being within it and wrapped up in it, you’re taking yourself outside it.”

After the success of Jane’s taster sessions (fully booked within just a few days of the release of tickets) Jane now plans to launch the full length eight-week Mindfulness courses at Union St. The longevity of the M-word’s hype may be hard to predict, but the benefits of its practical application hold out the test of time.

For Jane, who is reducing her hours at work to devote more time to being a Mindfulness teacher, the impact on wellbeing is indisputable.

“I feel really passionately that mindfulness works. I became aware that it gives me energy and was positive; whereas my work can leave me depleted at times. I felt it was about getting that balance right.”

“I see that people benefit from it – and if I can help with that in any way then, bring it on.”

More details of Jane’s new Mindfulness For Stress course are here, and you can follow Jane’s new MindBodyFeeling project on Twitter here and on Facebook here

By Matt

Tea Break with: Leonie’s Yoga and Pilates

For many of us, yoga is a fearsome beast, clad in soft bendy fabrics and throwing weird shapes on the floor. What is crouching eagle? Why is it so bloody hard to get into? When does the zen epiphany kick in?

In a world of mung bean warriors and lotus vigilantes, Leonie’s Yoga offers a practice that is as inclusive as it is instructive. As a teacher, she is more interested in the individual finding their own pace rather than hoisting people into headstands straight away; and where many instructors can be rather po-faced about the whole affair, Leonie’s classes are infused with a sense of fun.

Sitting down after the Thursday morning class to some tea and toast courtesy of the Pie-Eyed pop-up cafe, she outlines her philosophy: ‘For me it’s a bit of a treat for the body: learning how to accept it, and also how to gently move towards changing it. It’s trusting that with practice you’ll eventually reach your goals, rather than trying to push it.’

As someone who was once jackknifed into a plough by an over-zealous instructor, I endorse this attitude.

The refurbished studio space on the first floor of Union St has recently become the new home of what is informally known as the Breakfast Club – the morning class after which people stop around to catch up. At this point I must declare my own interest: I’ve been a loyal member of the breakfast brigade since I first arrived in Sheffield 18 months ago. In a city where I knew nobody, twisting myself into peculiar animal positions and then laughing about it over a cuppa with fellow twistees turned out to be a surprisingly good way to meet people.

Keeping an element of humour is important to Leonie, who is not keen on the evangelical attitude some practitioners adopt.

‘I don’t like people who are overly strict,’ she says. ‘Someone said to me recently that what they liked about how I teach is that I’m funny – I approach it in a bit more of a light-hearted way.’

One of her favourite poses is Half-Moon (Ardha Chandrasana to you boffins) – a joyous splay-limbed side angle pose balanced on one leg. ‘It’s a very joyful pose – it makes you feel quite childlike. You can’t really not have a laugh in a fun pose like that.’

She did her training through the British Wheel of Yoga: ’Three years, lots of essays’. Courses on core poses and meditation were twinned with study of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita, the central texts underpinning the yoga philosophy. One of her tutors was a bio-chemist, with a vast knowledge of anatomy. This has clearly informed Leonie’s own teaching style, which is physiologically informative without being overwhelming. (True story: in yet another escapade with other yoga teachers, I was once told to ‘relax my spleen’. I’m still trying.)

Yoga as a practical anodyne to modern life is a central feature of Leonie’s method, but it is also the reason she began doing it at all. While working as a copywriter in Manchester ten years ago she began to develop chronic pins and needles in her arms and hands. After many visits to a number of specialists, this would eventually be diagnosed as thoracic outlet syndrome, a condition where a bundle of nerves become trapped around the collarbone, causing severe pain and restricting movement. At one point she was unable to lift anything or even drive – typing for long periods became impossible. Her career as a writer was effectively at an end.

‘I had to completely rethink what I would do with my life,’ she says – ‘and one of the things the physiotherapist had advised was yoga – and it really was helping me enormously.’ Teaching it provided a double boon: ‘It would be doing me good, but I also knew how much it could be doing for other people as well.’

She moved to Sheffield about two years ago, and though setting up as an unknown in a new place has not been without its challenges, she credits the friendliness of the city and the existence of places like Union St as making all the difference. ‘Union St felt like a natural fit, doing yoga and also being freelance – being of a slightly independent frame of mind’.

The refurb of the studio space came at the perfect time – when co-ordinator Matt Hill was looking for a yoga teacher to hold classes there and the Breakfast Club was on the scout for a new home. Union St member Sian Thomas already attended an evening class of Leonie’s and put the two in touch.

It represents the kind of community vibe that makes Leonie’s ethos such a good match for the space – the idea that people will stay and talk to each other, not just come to conquer the poses and rush off. ‘It’s sort of living the idea of yoga: to pause a little in your life, not rush by every experience.’

A lot is said about ‘being in the moment’ these days, but it there is a real truth to it in Leonie’s teaching approach. Progress is something to be worked on bit by bit, not hurtled through. She recalls her own early attempts at Half-Moon, which she now enjoys so much. ‘I was in the garden, falling over a lot – it was ridiculous. And there’s this beautiful moment when suddenly you’re in it, and it’s effortless – but only because it was so much hard work the last thousand times you did it.’

Finishing her tea, she summarises: ‘It’s just having the courage to try in the first place – allowing yourself to fail joyfully. You have to be able to revel in the failure, until you get to the success.’ Breakfast Club is 9-10am on Thurdsays at Union St. To find out more about this or annoy of Leonie’s other classes across Sheffield, check out her website: leoniesyogapilates.co.uk or follow her on Facebook or Twitter @leoniesyoga.

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Tackling the Tampon Tax: Football for #FreePeriods
Keeping Up the Momentum
Politics for Everybody?
Monday’s Masterchef: Chris Hale
Tea break with: The Pasta Masta
Tea Break with: Sophie Lane of Slaaw
Sunday Times feature on co-working at Union St
Tea Break with: Jane Mitchell of MindBodyFeeling
Tea Break with: Leonie’s Yoga and Pilates