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The Big Food Appeal: Meet the chef keeping his community fed after giving up his job due to rare eye condition

A chef who moved back to Aberdeen due to his failing eyesight has been keeping busy – by making healthy meals for his community.

Garry Royan had a full-time job, his dream car and a nice house in Stirling until the eye condition he has been living with for more than 20 years worsened during lockdown.

No longer able to drive or work in professional kitchens, he had to pack up his life and move back to the Granite City.

The 53-year-old could have decided to retire, but instead he is putting his skill to good use by volunteering to cook fresh, healthy meals at Inchgarth Community Centre.

It is a welcome addition for the centre, which also runs a much-relied upon foodbank for the 25 communities in its catchment area.

Mr Royan has been a chef since he was 15 years old. Picture by Paul Glendell

Stovies, soup and pasta on the menu

And even though Mr Royan is about to take some time off, he was determined families would not go hungry – stockpiling hundreds of meals in the large freezers.

He usually spends around 15 hours a week making meals such as stovies, soups and lasagnas for the pensioners group, cafe and the foodbank – but increased his effort to ensure the freezers were full.

Mr Royan, who got his first job at the Amatola Hotel in Aberdeen when he was 15, said: “I got into cooking mainly because of my mum and my granny on my dad’s side.

“All my mum’s sisters were cooks at schools and universities so I just got into helping my mum in the kitchen when I was younger and creating meals.”

In 1999, he was diagnosed with Stargardt macular degeneration, a rare eye disease that causes gradual loss of vision. He was told this could happen anytime in the next 20 years – and that there would be no cure in his lifetime.

Garry Royan chef at Inchgarth Community Centre freezes a few of the hundreds of meals he has had to pre-cook before he is absent for a few weeks. Picture by Paul Glendell.

After arriving back in Aberdeen, Mr Royan asked charity North-East Sensory Services to find him a placement and he was paired with Inchgarth Community Centre in June last year.

Mr Royan said: “Initially I just started off doing soups and stuff then I progressed onto making all the fresh food for the café and then to making food for the foodbank as well.”

200 meals in one week made for hungry families

In the last week alone, he has made over 200 meals for the cafe and pensioners group and many meals for the foodbank, including 70 portions of stovies.

Having being in post for nearly a year, the chef said he would continue for as long as his condition allows.

“It’s very important for the community,” he said. “I mean I enjoy it, I know a lot of people through here now that I never knew before. I just think it’s a great thing that they’re doing for people who are struggling for the foodbank and stuff like that.”

“I think it’s really important and I love it.”

Scott Beattie at Inchgarth Community Centre. Picture by Paul Glendell

Scott Beattie, assistant manager at Inchgarth Community Centre, knew Mr Royan prior to him joining the volunteer team and said it had been a “no brainer”.

He said: “I know how good his cooking is and I know how hard a worker he is so it was a no brainer for us.”

“It always helps us when we’ve got volunteers that can take on that work that either we were having to do in the past or that were given out in different ways. Initially he came in and made homemade soups for the café and then he started to make other things.

“Along with being better quality food and everything in the cafe, even people in the foodbank are getting a good quality, healthy meals.”

Fresh meals a boost to foodbank offering

A few weeks ago, the foodbank at Inchgarth fed 80 families in under 90 minutes.

Last week 97 people attended in need of food, with Mr Royan’s meals disappearing in 30 minutes.

Mr Beattie added: “If they’re getting a meal from Garry, they just need to heat it up and they’ve got a nice fresh, nutritious meal that a lot of people might not be getting in their week.

“Even that one nutritious meal might give them a bit more energy and make them feel a bit better about themselves, so it really helps out the guys there as well.”

The Press and Journal and Evening Express are working to raise awareness of the vital part foodbanks play in our communities, and where people can get help.

The Big Food Appeal is also working to debunk some of the myths and stigma around foodbanks.

The foodbank at Inchgarth Community Centre relies on donations of food, hygiene products and cash to help support those struggling in the community.

It is also looking for more volunteers to help run the vital services – to get involved visit Inchgarth Community Centre online.

For more information, or to get involved with The Big Food Appeal, click here.