Chef cooks for King’s Lynn charity Purfleet Trust which helped him when he went off the rails
- Credit: Archant
It might have been chilly outside, but there were smiles and laughter inside in the warm, as Jamie Lucas cooked up a hearty lasagne.
Jamie Lucas, 42, of Colton Close, King's Lynn, has been volunteering for the charity for over a year, but his first encounter with the Purfleet Trust was five years ago as a client.
Mr Lucas fell into a spiral of heavy drinking and drugs.
"I drank three litres of vodka a day and took heroin," he said.
"I just hit rock bottom. I was totally out of it."
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In the years he's been homeless, he would spend his time drinking the day away and shoplifting to feed his habit. He's been in prison twice.
He was sleeping in garages and sheds before coming across a friend in town who mentioned the help the Purfleet Trust can provide.
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Mr Lucas said: "I came in for a meal and a shower every day. They even gave me clothes.
"They helped me get back on my feet and found me a place to stay.
"They gave me the opportunity to be a voluntary chef for one day a week and I gradually progressed to full-time."
The Purfleet Trust offers breakfast, hot meals and sandwiches from 9am to 4pm to clients and people in need from King's Lynn and in the West Norfolk area.
With only one other volunteer to help out in the busy kitchen, Mr Lucas begins his day serving drinks and pastries for breakfast until 10am.
Immediately after breakfast, he begins preparing dinner which he cooks from scratch, offering a wide range of specialty meals.
Sheltered from the freezing cold weather, the regulars give a cheery hello to Mr Lucas - who they address as "chef" - and arm themselves with a hot cup of tea.
The place is abuzz with laughter as Mr Lucas busies himself in the cramped kitchen. Chit-chat is punctuated with the sounds of boiling kettles, steaming pots and clinking cups.
One regular diner, James Taylor, 38, of Blackfriars Road, King's Lynn, said: "His food is absolutely fantastic. It's very tasty and he does a good job.
"He is always smiling."
Mr Lucas peers over the kitchen to his "customers" to ensure everyone is happy with their meals and takes a breather now and then to join in with the banter.
He said: "I love cooking for people. If I wasn't doing this I'd be at home all day and probably start drinking again.
"I love having a chat with all the people who come here for a meal. I know I can talk to people about my previous experience of being homeless.
"I hope I can be seen as an inspiration for some of them, that you can turn your life around."
Mr Lucas has been a chef for most of his life - his last job being at the Queen's Head in Wymondham, where he worked for five years.
"I started working as a chef since I was 15," he said.
"I've always wanted to be a chef since I was little.
"I always used to watch cooking shows and helped my nan cook Sunday dinner and from there it stuck."
Now five years clean from alcohol and drug abuse, Mr Lucas hopes his new lease of life will eventually lead to him running his own restaurant in the future.
"I want to get back into working as a chef and this is a way for me to do this," he said.
Paula Hall, chief executive of the Purfleet Trust, is working with Mr Lucas to help him achieve his dream.
"The next step for Jamie is helping him to secure a job," she said.
"By volunteering with us, he is building his stamina to get back to work.
"He is known by the community and commands quite a bit of respect.
"People can see him in that role and be inspired to get something of their own.
"We are really proud of him - he helps us a lot. As a charity we haven't got expensive resources so he contributes a lot to our organisation."
Mr Lucas still returns to the charity for advice on keeping up with bills and rent and helping him to stay clean.
"The Purfleet Trust are a godsend. They have helped build my confidence and be myself again. I love doing the job - it is my new drug.
"When I get home, I feel I have done something good for charity and giving a little back for all the help they have given me."