Since losing his brother in 2012, former Westminster Kingsway College student Joe Allen has held a series of dinners to raise funds for charity Meningitis Now. Amanda Afiya and Katherine Alano attended the third annual event
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It was and still is incredibly raw for the family as they come to terms with losing a bright, energetic, social young man so early in his life. But somehow they have found the strength to channel their emotions and raise money for Meningitis Now, a charity formed in 2013 by bringing together Meningitis UK and the Meningitis Trust to fund research, raise awareness and provide support for those affected by this terrible illness.
As a hospitality student, 18-year-old Joe, whose parents run the Halfway House pub in Brenchley, Kent, felt he could put his talents to use best by laying on a gastronomic dinner, and Westminster Kingsway College was happy to oblige in playing host for the event, which took place within four months of Tom's death. The eight-course extravaganza raised just under £10,000 for Meningitis Now.
Earlier this month, Joe, now 20, who works as a chef de partie at the Genuine Dining Co, held his third such event, for 145 covers. With help from two-Michelin-starred chefs Brett Graham of the Ledbury and Phil Howard of the Square, who both sponsored dishes by sending recipes and chefs to help prepare their dishes, Joe raised a further £15,000 for the charity, bringing his dinner-based fundraising efforts to a staggering £35,000.
As a family, through further fundraising such as marathons (together with his brothers Sam and Nick, Joe ran the Virgin London Marathon last Sunday), the Allens have raised about £60,000 for Meningitis Now.
"These events started as a little idea from my good friends Aaron Thomas and Nathan Belgrave after tragically losing my brotherTom," explains Joe. "Back then, I could never have imagined that these events would become as successful as they are today. Westminster Kingsway College has helped me hugely along the way, not only through allowing me to use the venue, but also in the invaluable support from both lecturers and students. None of this would be possible without the kindness of those within the industry, be it chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers or their suppliers. My friends and family have been there from the start and I can't thank them enough."
While Joe is planning on moving to Australia this summer, he does hope to return to the UK next May for a holiday, during which he and his former college friends intend to run a fourth fundraising event.
Tom studied business studies at the University of East Anglia, and worked at Norwich's Fat Cat pub.
The pub specialises in real ales, straight from the barrel, and fuelled Tom's own passion in the subject. On returning from university, Tom moved in above the family pub, the Halfway House in Brenchley, Kent, and became increasingly involved in running it.
"He was such a people person and had a real sense of maturity," says Joe. "He was able to talk to anybody, young or old. He was really popular in the pub and always lived life to the full. I could really have seen myself working in a pub with him in the future."
Tom died from acute bacterial meningitis in January 2012 at the age of 24.
The menu and the team
James Buckley, Genuine Dining Co
Sweet potato and ginger velouté
Kai Semple, North South Soup
Heritage tomato and cow curd
Nick Sinclair, Brooklands hotel, Weybridge, Surrey
Cured salmon, foraged watercress, potato salad
Nathan Eades, Epi Restaurant, Birmingham, prepared by Joe Allen
Stuffed leg of corn-fed chicken with peas, creamed Jersey Royals and spring truffle
Sponsored by Brett Graham, the Ledbury, prepared by Billy Hannigan
Milk chocolate pavé ,salted peanuts, praline and banana
Sponsored by Phil Howard, the Square, prepared by Martin Major and Jack Allibone
Matt Robinson, Bluebird, Chelsea
Champagne and white wine - Raeburn Fine Wines; red wine - the Ledbury; and dessert wine - Thorman Hunt
Aaron Thomas, Nathan Belgrave, Caroline Kerber and Jordan Kerridge, along with chef-lecturers Jonathan Warner and Norman Fu
Front of house
William Yarney, Tom Noller, Cameron Bownes, Colin Macdonald; third-year students Olivia Whitbread, Elena De Benedictis, Alice Glayzer, Aiden Monk; and lecturer Veronique Bonnefoy
â- Crockery, glassware and linen sponsored by Jaspers