Imagine if on your eighth birthday you hadn’t had a cake. No song, no blowing on candles, no getting the first slice. That day, which in terms of excitement for a child is only second to Christmas, would not have felt very special after all.
Many families in Hackney can’t afford to buy or even make their kids a cake. Some live in temporary accommodation without an oven and are on the cusp of homelessness.
Free Cakes for Kids Hackney (FCFKH) is an organisation which puts volunteer bakers in touch with families in need, and makes sure these kids get their fair share of Victoria Sponge.
Set up by Julia Bleet and Sophie Howes in 2011, this organisation is part of a UK network that keeps expanding. “We get two referrals a week, and we’ve baked almost 200 cakes so far” says Tessa Lidstone, Free Cakes for Kids Hackney’s Media Officer.
With 40 bakers on their books and plenty more aspiring volunteers on their waiting list, FCFKH will not leave any child disappointed. “We have an army of bakers! If we get more and more referrals, we can get more of them into our books,” she adds.
Most of these bakers are amateurs, but the results are truly impressive. These cakes come in the most varied shapes and sizes, carefully personalised for each child.
Peppa Pig, princesses, dinosaurs and Spiderman are obviously always very popular. “It’s not meant to look professional, it’s meant to be home-made cakes that somebody put a lot of love into”, says Lidstone.
Rather than receiving requests straight from the families, FCFKH operates on a referral system filtered by third parties such as schools, social services or children centres.
Once the cake is ready, the bakers drop it off at a public location instead of a personal address. “We’re more than happy for a family to highlight themselves, but we do it this way so that it’s inclusive an confidential – it’s not meant to make the other kids go ‘oh, poor them’,” explains Lidstone.
This means that a lot of the times the requests are almost anonymous: the only information the baker has to go by is often just the children’s name, their age and their favourite TV show.
At FCFKH’s own birthday party in 2012, the people who pass on the referrals were invited to celebrate. That’s when the bakers finally got told of the effect their cakes had.
Lidstone also occasionally bakes for the organisation, and heard the stories behind the cakes: “It was lovely to know how they can make these kids’ day. It really makes it their birthday.”
At the party, stories like that of a football-loving boy, eldest of three disabled children, came to the surface. Their mum, unemployed, had to take care of her children full-time and could not bake him a cake.
“Birthdays are really stressful times for us, especially as we have so many hospital appointments to go to as a family”, she said. A volunteer baker, Lee Mitchell, came up with a football shaped cake for the boy: “It’s a great feeling to know that such a simple thing as baking and decorating a cake can make a difference in a kid’s life”, she said.
Sure, these families have bigger issues that cannot and will not be fixed by a slice of cake. But as one of FCFKH’s key referrers, Hamra Yucel, Family Support Co-ordinator at Family Action, said, this is “a small yet very important contribution” for them. It allows for colourful and happy memories to bright up at least one day for a child.
As a voluntary, not for profit organisation, FCFK Hackney manages to keep its costs down, but still needs external funds to keep going. Hackney Council has given it a grant, but community fundraising is still necessary to buy ingredients and organise workshops which encourage families to bake at home.
Crate Brewery, in Hackney Wick, will host this year’s annual main fundraising event for the organisation. This Sunday, beers will be left to the side and make way for all sorts of cake, although a beer-inspired cupcake contest will take place for resilient pub-goers who think ale goes with pretty much everything!
Natalie Coleman, winner of TV cooking contest MasterChef 2013 and newly-acquired patron of FCUK Hackney will also be giving a live demonstration at 4pm.
For once, eating cake might actually help your local community – and we all know that eating cake is good for body, mind and soul. Yours, and a eight year old child’s.