A Devon dad is fighting his latest setback in a jam-packed year that has seen him hit the national press, become a victim of crime, and help feed thousands of hungry people in Torbay.

Mike Trower is the founder of Cooking With Cody, a community interest company that aims to educate people about food. Named after Mike’s four-year-old son Cody, the venture includes regular online posts where Mike and Cody demonstrate meals to help feed all the family.

It would be a massive understatement to say that 2020 has been an unpredictable year for us all, but Mike has certainly had a year of ups and downs, overcoming many hurdles, with some problems still to be solved.

After the breakdown of his relationship, Mike became a full-time parent to his two young children, Cody and Lara.

They then moved from Birmingham to Devon in 2018 and found themselves living in a homeless shelter.

Mike also faced a six-week wait to start claiming Universal Credit, but despite selling his motorbike, he was forced to rely on food banks to provide for his children.

When DevonLive spoke to Mike in June this year, he was helping out The Thrive Project in Paignton, cooking donated food to provide meals to vulnerable people in Torbay. He has continued to help them alongside their other volunteers, and so far this year, the project has provided 2,500 meals to those in need, saving around £5,000 of food wastage.

Mike Trower and his two children are now helping feed their community

Earlier this year, Mike also spoke of his plans to fundraise to buy a community bus, hoping to travel around Torbay teaching cooking skills to others.

As a result, he was featured on Sky One’s The Russell Howard Hour which sees the comedian look at news events from around the world, and donations for the bus started to flood in.

But after finally managing to purchase a double-decker bus Mike was dealt a devastating blow.

Only four days after buying it, Mike discovered the bus had been vandalised, just days before the renovation work was set to begin. The windows had been smashed and the interior destroyed.

Mike in front of the smashed up bus

The incident- which is being dealt with by police- left him in tears and made him feel like he couldn’t continue with the project – but once again, people rallied round.

“The community were just so good to me and the project and the kids [Cody and Lara] offering everything to help”, Mike said.

“There were people messaging us saying they could get us windows, and the fundraising was going up, people were donating, people were sharing it. We were getting hundreds of messages, hundreds of comments on social media, people were checking if I was OK and if there was anything I needed.

Lara likes to help out in the kitchen too

“It was just so overwhelming. I was just like, ‘I can’t believe that all these people – not only do they feel sorry for us – and bad that it’s happened, but they’re also gutted as well’ because they feel like they’re a part of it because it’s so community-based.”

After the bus was vandalised, Russell Howard’s team got in touch with Mike again so that they could help him boost his fundraising appeal to repair the damage.

Mike said: “I still can’t believe it.

”They wanted to help us cover repair costs.”

But despite all his hard work and raising £27,000 towards the bus, Mike is now facing yet another setback.

Somebody kindly sorted some replacement windows for the bus, sending them all the way from Yorkshire, but unfortunately, when Mike tried to get them installed, they didn’t fit.

Mike said: “We’re massively struggling now to think of the next step.”

He will now need to find somebody to custom-make the windows because they aren’t being manufactured anymore because the bus is so old.

“But then that’s a problem itself. Because they don’t make them, they’ll have to make a jig to make them, and a jig is 12 hundred quid per window”, Mike said.

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This is further complicated by the fact the bus has two different types of window, so all in all, solving the issue will cost around £5000 – more than Mike originally paid for the bus.

It could well be that Mike will now be forced to buy a new bus, but he’s looking on the bright side.

He said the project had received donations from all over the world, including those from Tokyo, Shanghai, Australia, America, and Canada.

Cody surrounded by the smashed glass

Mike said: “It’s been absolutely incredible. And there are people just on our doorstep that have donated, people who have sent me stuff for the kids – somebody’s dropped off some pyjamas for the kids.”

And when Mike’s phone broke, somebody offered to repair it for him, but they actually went on to provide him with a brand new handset, much to Mike’s surprise.

Despite his “massively up and down year” Mike’s determined that this latest setback won’t be the end of his community bus dreams.

Mike said: “We’re going carry on, we’re going to do it although there are different hurdles popping up every day. I’m not giving up what we’ve done.

“There are so many people out there who need extra support around food because there are some starving children, and there are some obese children, and they’re from exactly the same backgrounds. It’s all about education with it.

“As a community, as a country, we need this sort of thing. People should be able to know how to cook for free. If you want to go and cook some food from Jamie Oliver then fine, pay for it, but you shouldn’t have to just scrape through and make do with what you’ve got and not know what to do properly.

“Especially as a new parent, I was like ‘I don’t know what to do with all this stuff’ that I was getting from the food bank – because that’s where it started.

“I think next year, the bus will be completed, we will be on the road and we will be delivering this service for free to everybody in our bay.”





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