After much meeting, organising, fretting and of course bowl-making, Empty Bowls Tonbridge finally happened. For several weeks the bowls have been arriving at our house and on Wednesday I collected the last batch on my way to Tonbridge Old Fire Station to set up. With 48 seats each night and a couple of spares for emergencies it came to 100 bowls.
We mixed up the bowls around the tables and included an information sheet on the potter and some leaflets on the Bridge Trust with each one. Then we sealed them in plain brown paper bags. We reserved seats for the potters, so that they didn’t get their own bowls and were distributed around the room. We were just finishing when we realised that a queue was forming outside.
As people arrived they were ticked off on the list and invited to sit anywhere that wasn’t reserved. Everyone got sorted out and ordered drinks and we were ready to kick off. Sam Goode introduced me and suddenly I was on! Fortunately I’d written down what I planned to say and managed to stick to my five minutes talking about the process of making pots. I took along a freshly thrown bowl and promptly stuck a finger in it – which always causes some distress and amusement.
I finished by introducing John from the Bridge Trust, who spoke a little about their work. Despite this being a ‘soup’ based event they are not a soup kitchen. They take in homeless people, provide them somewhere stable to stay, mentoring in order to help them find employment and help to move on to permanent accommodation.
Each of the chefs then spoke about their enterprises in this area, and about the soup they had made for the evening. Jamie Halsall is interested in beer and food combinations, and made a chicken and beer broth garnished with wild garlic and viola flowers he had found locally. Dan Hatton is opening a Deli for difficult to source quality ingredients in Tunbridge Wells. He made a ham broth garnished with pea pesto and fresh garden peas. Ben Sauston is opening a healthy-but-tasty take-away in Tonbridge and made a Thai spiced butternut squash soup with a lime and coconut cream garnish.
By this time everyone was getting hungry. Sam gave the word: “OK you can open your bags.” For a few minutes thoughts of food were forgotten as everyone discovered the bowl that they would use and take home. There was a real buzz of excitement and surprise. I was sitting with a group of women who had booked together and we chatted about their bowls and how they were made until it was our turn to go to the counter for soup. The second and third portions of soup were brought to the tables in disposable bowls and all three types were superb. Everyone seemed to have a great time and folks stayed and picked over the last of the bread and chatted over a glass of wine or beer.
The question was – could we pull it off a second night? Another hour of wrapping bowls and people started appearing – we even managed to seat some people who didn’t realise that we were fully booked. I repeated my pot talk, Becky spoke for the Bridge Trust and Claire from the Bakehouse at 124, which had supplied the excellent sourdough bread, talked about what she is trying to do there. The organising team ate standing – but it was worth it to be able to stand back and enjoy the buzz in the room.
Huge thanks to the 16 potters who contributed pots. Also to the three chefs, the Bakhouse, Richard Colins and Sam Goode of the Old Fire Station, and Hildegard Pax, co-organiser and area coordinator for South East Open Studios. Final figures are yet to come in but with the money collected through ticket sales, the few extra places and some donations which were given to me by people who couldn’t make it but wanted to contribute anyway, we have raised over £1600 for The Bridge Trust.