Hidden around Leicester are a handful of successful businesses that survive with zero labour costs and zero exploitation. We take a look at how and why.

My journey starts at an independent café so seasonal that the menu changes everytime it opens its doors. Currently open twice a week, The Real Junk Food Project is not a business; it’s a concept raising awareness of the environmental food waste issue.

Sell-by and best before labels didn’t exist before the 1970s, but now that they do it’s estimated approximately five million tonnes of UK household food and drink is disposed of unnecessarily each year. Companies are self-regulating their own food labels, and it is unclear how any of the dates are decided.

To counteract this problem Bobby Hawkins and Alison Preston, who run the café, intercept food waste with a team of volunteers and create delicious, healthy meals. “The project is logical, it makes sense,” Bobby explains. “It’s got to be a success.”

TRJFP operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis, with all donations currently being invested in buying a mobile catering unit to help share the concept with the wider community. Bobby explains that if TRJFP succeeds, then it won’t need to exist anymore: “The aim of the project is to go out of business.” So break free of your food label shackles, visit this café and #feedbelliesnotbins.


Photography by David Wilson Clarke
Photography by David Wilson Clarke

My next stop is The World Peace Café, situated in the heart of the city on Guildhall Lane and boasting a vegetarian/vegan seasonal menu. The café aims to offer a place to be peaceful and eat good food, such as their delicious ciabatta, stuffed with soft Brie and earthy beetroot chutney accompanied by sweet tangy tomatoes. The juicy acidic tomatoes bring out the subtle sweetness of the beetroot and the brie masks the beetroots earthy overtones. The team of volunteers have perfectly mastered the ability to balance a dish.

What more could you want from a volunteer-run café? How about some food for thought? Once a month their Food for Thought Evening offers meditation followed by a four course vegetarian meal for only £15, perfect for those who are looking for a more holistic dining experience.

My journey ends at 6 Degrees Coffee House on London Road. Entering the café you are invited in by comfy armchairs, books and board games and the smell of local brewers St Martins Coffee, creating a sense of home.


Photography by David Wilson Clarke

From the outside it appears a successful business and café, but it boasts a secret that should be shouted from the rooftops; unlike many chain coffee houses, 6 Degrees doesn’t just give 10p to charity for every Vanilla Extra-Shot Soya Flat White sold. It gives every penny of its profit to Open Hands Trust, a charity in Leicester. This business was established by Open Hands to generate more sustainable funding for the charity. Manager Hazel Nash describes the café as: “a business making money for charity.”

They pride themselves on using local produce, such as sourcing their bread from Ethel Bakeries, literally across the road from them. The coffee house is a fabulously subtle idea, here you can truly have your cake and eat it! Sit back, relax and enjoy a velvety flat white made by passionate volunteers, whilst basking in the knowledge that you’ve had a positive impact on society.

We might not have the Leicester pound just yet, but it is clear the community wants to do more than just support local independent businesses.

This open-minded culture has provided an environment for social enterprises to flourish by focusing on more than just turning a profit. Plus, being a foodie, I’m more than happy to be able to dine in several of them!


Tamara O’Donovan is a food buff and wine enthusiast. Having managed multiple fine dining restaurants her standards are high. She spends her time seeking out new exciting restaurants and independent eateries.


  1. Can I mention here too Café sMASHing run by the arts charity Soft Touch? This café runs every Thursday lunchtime out of Soft Touch’s new premises on New Walk – opposite Museum Square. It’s run by young people in need of additional support, working with professional support to produce salads, sandwiches, cakes and snacks. It’s great for local people working in or visiting the area and gives young people valuable work experience and is part of Soft Touch’s wider work in educating young people about healthy eating. For more information see here: http://www.soft-touch.org.uk/2015/10/29/smashing-pop-up-thursday-cafe/

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