Red Tower York – helping the community one bite at a time

As interns with the Living Lab, Lauryn Wilson and Charlie Malbon had the opportunity to meet with Mike Calvert (the chairman) and Bill Hill (a CIC director) from Red Tower, an organisation providing support for the community of our city. They heard about the organisation’s innovative approach and opportunities for students to get involved.


As an organisation who supports the city’s community, we were interested in discussing the inspiration for the space Red Tower provides. Mike told us that their goal is to create a place in York where vulnerable families and individuals can come to find support through both innovative food access and a supportive community.

Due to the current cost-of-living crisis, which is impacting financially insecure people throughout our country, places like Red Tower are providing the people of York with invaluable resources. The site is providing a safe haven through their events space, kitchen and growing beds as well as making use of the historic building and the scenic outside area. By doing this, the Red Tower team is bringing York’s heritage to life whilst also serving the community.

Red Tower volunteers holding a fundraising cheque

Red Tower volunteers fundraising for their work

Through the UK’s national network of charitable food redistributors, Fareshare, Red Tower collects food donations from Waitrose and four Tesco outlets in York. Through doing this they are not only making food accessible, but they are also actively reducing food waste! Red Tower receive around £300 worth of food per week which they then issue out to an average of 30 families and individuals.

Mike told us that Red Tower received a £2500 Warm Space grant which has allowed them to provide for people in another way. The grant has gone into funding innovative ways to help the community keep warm and keep energy bills down. It’s able to provide items such as heated throws, winter clothes, hot water bottles, microwaves and slow cookers are now being provided as a resource to help families and individuals who are affected by the cost-of-living crisis.

During the interview with Mike and Bill, we were able to ask how students can get involved in Red Tower – whether that’s donating your time volunteering or reaching out to them for a helping hand. Red Tower is very open and welcoming to everyone! As Mike said, ‘what [Red Tower] aims to do, in a modest way, is make an impact’. As an alumnus of the school, Mike welcomes students to Red Tower. He recalled students who start off as members who eventually become volunteers, many from York St John University. Their pay-as-you-feel system is inclusive of everyone who visits Red Tower, as there’s no need to prove how much money you have – everyone is welcome to join. You can enjoy the food and company of the other volunteers and clients, whether that’s at the Garden Café outside of Red Tower itself, or at the Hungate Reading Café on a Monday. This is especially great for students as it can give you a chance to socialise with different types of people without having to spend much money; students are welcomed as clients and volunteers.

Crates of food

Crates of surplus food waiting to be shared out among the community

Mike has said that although the staff at Red Tower might not have all the answers to the questions members may know the people and organisations that do. Red Tower works with several organisations such as Healthwatch York, where they can give you help and advice for all health and social care services, and Live Well York, who are an information and advice community website. This is perfect for students and non-students alike who are looking for support in other areas, whether that’s health and wellbeing or other work or volunteering opportunities.

Other ways to help Red Tower could be to simply leave any food donations in the donations cage at Waitrose Foss Islands. If you find yourself too busy to volunteer, you can donate any food you have spare (preferably non-perishable foods or food in tins, pasta, soups, beans etc.) and leave it in the donations cage in Waitrose. Although this is only active around the Christmas holidays, this would help Red Tower greatly.

Bill has even found use for perishable foods donated to them such as sandwiches. Though these foods can’t be used for Red Tower, Bill gives out these sandwiches to the homeless and any leftovers are given to the organisation, Changing Lives. This not only helps the people around York who need it, helping families and improving the overall health and wellbeing of the city, but helps to avoid food waste. Even if you find yourself with only perishable foods spare to donate, you could take a page out of Bill’s book and find organisations such as Changing Lives to donate food to the people who need it.

Red Tower prides itself on helping the community one step at a time. They recognise that what they do is just a drop into the wider ocean, but they believe every little counts. There’s an African saying that Mike had told us that he has picked up on his travels that say, “there’s only one way of eating an elephant, one bite at a time.”

You can contact Red Tower York by visiting their website and going to their ‘Contact Us’ section for their email. Red Tower members socialise every Monday at the Hungate Reading Café right next to St John Central accommodation for any students who wish to join the Red Tower community.


This is a link to other food shares in York you can get involved in: