Stephen Lunny always used to think of himself as a “cooking waiter.” Today, through his work at the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, he is also an important lynchpin in the local community. He spoke with Lachlan Colquhoun.

There is something about food and kitchens. The act of cooking together and then sharing the food has always been a positive, and even therapeutic, part of the human experience.

It is a concept which the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre, and community worker Stephen Lunny have embraced as they have built something special at the SHNC Community Café over the last six years.

“I’m always bouncing away in the morning trying to get to work early,” says Lunny, a local who has lived in Surry Hills for two decades after arriving from NZ.

“I really do love my job and I wouldn’t want to do anything else. Its very satisfying running programs that help people help themselves and which they really enjoy.”

It is a job which Lunny has largely built up and created for himself, in response to community need.

Orginally, he was spending one day a month at the SHNC a part of a collaboration with TAFE, but that has built up to an all consuming and meaningful role running a number of hospitality based courses in the Community Café.

“We partner with the Booby Goldsmith Foundation and run a 10 week program for people living with HIV,” says Lunny.

“Then there is a program we do with Oasis for vulnerable families, and right now all the participants come along with babies under one year old, and the Mum’s cook with me and we share a lunch together.”

Then there are other programs for young people, funded by the Community Drug Action team, which focuses on drugs and the law, nutrition, blood borne diseases and healthy relationships.

The kitchen works its magic in many ways. Not only does it provide healthy eating, it is a place which fosters friendship and community, and breaks down barriers of isolation.

It educates on many levels, and also trains people. Lunny talks with pride about program participants who have surprised themselves by going on to full time jobs in hospitality.

“We are always doing something different and we fill our programs basically because people like coming to them,” says Lunny.

“Central to all this is the kitchen. Its great when it is activated up and up and running.

“Not many neighbourhood centres have such a wonderful kitchen and we make the most of what we have.”

The Community Café is open to the public on the first Saturday of every month (the same day Surry Hills Markets) from 10 am to 3 pm. Its on the first floor of the Neighbourhood Centre. Devonshire Teas are a speciality.

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