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‘Pop up restaurants’ present a big opportunity in rural areas

Rural areas are often known for their imaginative and unique events when it comes to raising vital funds that keep local services open. This is no truer than in Masham, North Yorkshire, where volunteers are running ‘pop-up restaurants’ that cater to the locals.

They are as their name implies – a restaurant-style evening that caters for up to 60 people, usually with a themed cuisine, and open up overnight in spaces not often used for such purposes. In Masham, this is the town hall, which is turned into a temporary restaurant complete with waiters and winery.

Masham Town Hall resides in a small community of 1200 people who have so far been treated to 3 of these popular events, which are a joint effort between paid caterers and volunteers.

Two of these were held around the theme of ‘fine dining’ while the third was a French-special in aid of the Tour de France celebrations which passed through the area last summer. The latter raised significant funds that contributed to hiring and running costs, as well as licensing and publicity overheads. Through the sale of tickets to the restaurants, it is relatively easy to make costs back from running the pop-ups, and also have some left over for other activities that will benefit the wider community.

The idea of what a pop-up restaurant could mean for fundraising in rural areas is being explored in the new ‘52 (Almost) Painless Things Your Community Can Do’ campaign. As number 51 on the extensive list designed to inspire volunteers to try something new, charity organisers Rural Action Yorkshire spoke to Nick Reed, the Administrator at Masham Town Hall, on the pros and cons of holding such an evening.


Nick explained:
We charge £20-25 a head – that gives you a three-course meal including coffee.

Wine is extra, but we have been able to purchase at a discount rate from a nearby wine retailer, so it is worth looking at local suppliers in the area.

Alternatively, we have gone with BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle – as we have all of the relevant alcohol licenses in place to allow this. We have found that wine is where you make the bulk profit.


Food is mostly pre-prepared outside of the hall and then warmed up in the kitchen, with some meals made to order, so a building would need to have a fairly large kitchen area, or at least enough space to operate a base from on the night. Catering is planned to offer vegetarian as well as gluten-free options, thus an experienced caterer is often required.


Nick went on:

I run the winery from my office in the hall, we use volunteers to serve the starters, and then the mains and desserts are buffet-style so that people can go up and choose their meals.

If we need more service than this in future, we would consider factoring employment costs into our budget.

Perhaps one shift’s worth of work from a local cafe or nearby students, but for now volunteers can cover this.


There have been relatively few issues in staging the events, as the caterers find them straight-forward, catering for fewer numbers than they are used to with weddings and parties.


‘52 Things’ is keen to turn the spotlight on volunteers and showcase the significant contributions they make every day to their communities and neighbours. As the campaign’s name implies however, no event or activity is completely without its challenges or hard work and planning.


Nick admits that there is sometimes the risk of volunteer fatigue: “Masham is lucky in that across the different organisations there is an enthusiastic pool of volunteers, but they are spread very thin. If people hadn’t volunteered to help with the pop-ups on the night, we may have had to employ somebody. Volunteers are happy to do one-offs, rather than make weekly commitments, so it is worth considering this aspect carefully.”


Leah Swain, chief officer at Rural Action Yorkshire, said: “What has become clear through the 52 Things campaign so far and through talking to volunteers is that action inspires action. Even though time and dedication is needed, projects are successful in bringing people together, creating a spark, raising funds and reinforcing community spirit.”


She added: “Rural Action Yorkshire is a charity that can lend a helping hand to new and fledgling projects, in order to support volunteers to get them off the ground. In some cases we have funding or access to funding which can assist with this process, so we encourage all those in need to get in touch.”


More restaurants are planned in the future for Masham, including an Italian night, where Nick hopes to source an Italian singer to provide light entertainment. When considering all of the cuisines available to try, the possibilities seem endless.


“I would definitely recommend this idea to other communities, in particular because the pop-up restaurants are less work than a coffee morning, and they often raise more money.”


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