A 76-YEAR-OLD grandmother from Keighley who officially launched her own curry business last year has distributed thousands of free meals during lockdown.

Akila Chokkalingam has been delivering the food, including more than 2,200 vegan ready-meals, to frontline NHS workers and the elderly and vulnerable.

And her business has also seen a massive 680 per cent increase in sales during the period, which has meant taking on extra staff to cope with demand.

Akila, who has spent most of the pandemic in her kitchen, said: “We are incredibly grateful to have experienced such a growth in 2020 – and even happier that we were able to give something back during the pandemic.”

South India-born Akila began testing and trialling gourmet curries out of her Keighley kitchen in 2018.

“I’d noticed a lack of nutritious but tasty curries for sale in supermarkets and takeaway restaurants,” she says.

Using her 60 years’ culinary experience – together with input from nutritionists, health experts and doctors, including her son, NHS consultant Dr Senthil Kumar – Akila created healthier versions of her traditional recipes.

Her vegan range, comprising nine dishes including Tikka Masala and Spinach dal Kootu, is gluten-free and registered with the Vegan Society trademark.

The business has already accumulated multiple accolades, including 24 Great Taste awards.

As the pandemic unfolded, Akila decided to start delivering curries to hospitals and offered discount codes to key workers.

And meals were distributed to the elderly and vulnerable in the area.

In addition, the company has donated more than 50,000 meals to children in India during the past 12 months as part of a ‘buy one-feed one’ initiative.

Tribute is paid to the business by the Vegan Society.

Ericka Durgahee, business development marketing manager with the society, said: “It’s fantastic to see a company that is registered with the vegan trademark – which helps users identify that a product is suitable for vegans – going above and beyond for those in need during what has been an incredibly difficult year. We’re delighted to hear that frontline workers and elderly and vulnerable people have been able to enjoy top-quality and tasty vegan meals.”