The trouble with climbing to the top diving board in a public pool to try out your triple somersault is that you could belly flop. I sensed this trouble after reading a small item in the Oxford Mail that “a food surplus café for Oxford would be trialled on a Saturday inApril.

Dishes, made from food thrown out by restaurants, cafes or shops will be served at the East Oxford Community Centre.”

I tracked down the organiser, Peter Lefort, to find out if this was a hit or miss because there was not much reaction in the six weeks since the trial.

He was very open. “The idea of ‘pay as you feel for a healthy meal’ was bubbling away for a good year and we had our first meeting in January or February with 20 people signed up to organise it.

“On the day 15 people sent their apologies. The five of us who turned up were dejected. We clearly didn’t have people on hand to help. Would anyone come to eat? We wouldn’t be able to decide the menu until the day of the event when we had the food. There was no guarantee we would have food on the day. Who’s going to cook it and how much should they cook?

“Alongside these impossible questions we knew that the average family in the UK wastes £60 of food each week. We knew that in Oxford we waste 11 per cent of our food. We also knew of the food poverty in Oxford where people don’t have enough or the right kinds of food, or the skills and fuel to cook it.

“We decided it would be a huge experiment, but we would go for it and book the East Oxford Community Centre which cost £9 per hour for community functions with a total fee of just over £100. In the end the total expenses for the whole event was about £200.

“In essence it was a simple idea. We wanted to use only the surplus of the surplus food. We didn’t want to take food that otherwise might go to people using food banks or to Asylum Welcome. We didn’t know how it would end up, but if we fed people and benefited people who were not in food poverty at the expense of others who were in food poverty, then it would have had a negative impact and we might as well have stayed at home.

“The organization needed attention to detail. If and when people eventually come to a committee meeting in the future they need to ‘buy into it’ and have community ownership. We wanted it to be something that people felt they were a part of and could ‘drive’ it. If it’s not efficient, they won’t come back. So we set up four committees: cooking, sourcing the food, publicity and venue and volunteers.”

Peter told me they got insurance, public and employee liability, via the county council-funded umbrella group – Community Action Groups Oxfordshire. The eight kitchen volunteers all had food hygiene qualifications which meant they were legally allowed to cook food that could be served to the public.

Peter took charge of the food sourcing. “The Oxford Food Bank was a great supplier. They had huge amounts of asparagus that was fresh and needed eating; and they came up with the odd surprise, like a gram of saffron. The team canvassed all the Cowley Road food shops and restaurants. One shop in particular “Simply Fresh” donated a lot of food from Pakistan and Eastern Asia that we never even knew existed.

“We foraged for nettles and on the Friday before the event we visited all the bakeries in Oxford to collect bread which is one of the foods that gets wasted the most.”

Their publicity campaign exploded when they set up a facebook page – 3,400 people see their posts. The committee found their idea caught the public imagination. “Food waste seems to be a significant item in the public mindset,” said Peter. “It’s now illegal to throw food away in French supermarkets and last week Tesco announced they will give all surplus food to charities. So it’s part of the zeitgeist at the moment.”

So how did it go on the day? Peter had a big grin. “There were 47 volunteers, including many we had not seen before. We served over 500 meals to all sorts of people: children, the elderly, and people in food poverty who didn’t expect to eat a hot meal that Saturday. We raised around £750 on the ‘pay what you feel for a healthy meal’ plan so the average meal was about £1.50.

I noticed that all the food was vegan, but not by design. That’s the type of food which tends to get thrown out. The menu included chickpea and veggie tagine, green pasta with asparagus and olives and rhubarb crumble.

Peter Lefort was philosophical about what it all meant. “We had long tables so people could sit together with friends and still be next to strangers. The mix brought people together from all ages and backgrounds.

“The ‘pay what you feel’ plan worked with an anonymous donation box. One person asked what would happen if he paid nothing. I said ‘Fine, that won’t break the bank’.

“It wasn’t a transactional thing. You didn’t have to give something to get something back. You sat where you wanted, ate what you wanted and paid what you wanted. There were no obligations. It wasn’t about food as a product, but food as a resource – a way to bring people together and talk about ideas they want to share.”

Where does the idea go from here? Peter Lefort again: “We’ll have a follow up meal on Saturday July 11 at the East Oxford Community Centre and then on October 31, Halloween, a meal in a new venue. We want to use this to widen access to cheap and healthy food and get people thinking about the social value of food.”

If you fancy getting involved the committee’s next meeting is on Monday at 6.30pm at “The Hatch” in Little Clarendon Street. Go on, climb to the top of the diving board and try out your triple somersault.