The Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park has been delivering food to people stuck at home since the crisis began

The owner of a Charlton cafe offering free lunches to the vulnerable says he is giving back to the community following an outpouring of support after a break-in last year.

As the coronavirus outbreak turns the lives of vulnerable residents upside down, Michael Lauricourt, along with his wife Mimi and an employee from the Old Cottage Cafe in Charlton Park have been cooking and delivering free lunches to local people.

Elderly and isolated households in Charlton, Woolwich and Blackheath are being treated to hot meals courtesy of the cafe.

The initiative comes after thousands of pounds was raised for the much-loved cafe following a burglary in January last year.

Michael, who has run the cafe since it was opened in 2012, said: “We have always been part of the community – the community was behind us when we were broken into. When this all started the thought about how we could best help the community.

“Councillor John Fahy gave me a few names of people who couldn’t get out and about and we gave them free lunch, at first it was out of our own pocket. Since then, somebody else gave me a donation to help the work I’m doing. I’m keeping that ‘somebody’ private – but I’m very privileged to be able to do this to help the elderly.”

While he is helping the effort against the virus, Michael is mourning the death of his own father, George, who passed away on 22 March, aged 94, of circumstances not related to coronavirus.

Michael recently delivered food and tea to staff at Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Woolwich

But Michael insists he and his wife wouldn’t be able to sit still if they had to sit at home, with their cafe closed due to government restrictions.

He said: “It has been overwhelming actually. It does feel good to give something back to the community – it’s very rewarding. When I see the people, I can see that they are so in need. Their mobility is not good. They are struggling – one person’s wife has dementia and he struggles to walk around.

“I’m sort of putting myself at risk – but I feel like I need to be out in the community and helping. In the cafe we are used to working seven days a week – if we are at home we’ll be wondering what we can do. We need to be out and about.”

At the moment a dozen households are being given free lunches – but there is scope to help more in the coming weeks.

Michael added: “We would like to stretch it out – but we can’t go too big you know. It’s only two people delivering at the moment, one is a worker, Erica, who volunteered. We need to keep it manageable. It’s only me and my wife and Erica, it’s only three of us.

“But we will look at helping more, if more people do need support. We can think about going down that road.”

On top of delivering the lunches three days a week (Monday, Wednesday and Fridays) Michael and the team are going shopping for the vulnerable for their necessities and giving them vital human contact.

He said: “When we see these people we can see they are in need. Their mobility isn’t good and they are isolated. They need to have some human contact.”

The Old Cottage Cafe has also, as of this week, began donating tea, coffee and cake to NHS workers at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Woolwich Common. Workers were given banana cake and bread pudding along with two urns of coffee and tea.

The future remains uncertain for many small businesses – including the Old Cottage Cafe – but for the time being helping the community is the priority.

Michael said: “We don’t know how long this is going to go on for. We may have to ask for donations later down the line to keep going and delivering the food but at the moment we are managing. It’s very uncertain. I’m quite concerned about the future – we have been closed down. At first we were doing just takeaway but then we were told to shut the shop down.

“The council aren’t too sure themselves about what is going on with the rent – everyone’s situation is different. In the meantime we’ll just plod on as we are. If anyone else is needs help we can consider if we can do it – we need to be out and about.”

The Old Cottage Cafe can be reached on Twitter at @oldcoffeeshop.

TOM BULL is a freelance journalist and former BBC local democracy reporter. We have been able to commission him to write for us because of the generosity of people who fund 853 and its sister website The Charlton Champion, where this story appeared first. Thank you to all who have helped.

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