You may have seen their donation boxes at your local Tesco this summer. FareShare’s Neighbourhood Food Collection project incentivised people to donate 3.6 million meals to those in need over the past few months and although this is no small achievement, FareShare do much more than this. This week LCRN went to visit Rachel Ledwith, FareShare’s London Development Manager, at the London food collection warehouse to find out about their work.
What is FareShare?
FareShare is an environmental charity that seeks to ensure that no good food goes to waste. We take food from the food industry and redistribute it to charities, not-for-profits and community groups that use food as part of their service offering. An obvious example is an elderly lunching club but it could also be a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre or a homeless drop in centre that offers not only food but also other types of support and advice. When you consider that there are 5.8 million people at or below the poverty line in the UK, and yet we have a billion tonnes of food that is not being used, it doesn’t balance. What we are saying is: lets look at how we can make that system balance more.
FareShare is an established charity in the food sector, can you give me an idea of the scope of your action?
We have 20 regional centres across the UK, which means that we almost have complete UK coverage. Last year we were working with 1,900 charities, distributing over 7,000 tonnes of food, which was turned into 15.3 million meals. This year (since April) we already have more than 2,000 charities in our network. The important thing is that through the food that we are able to offer, these charities save on average £13,000 per year, and in 80% of the cases that money is used to reinvest in their service provision. We think that last year alone we helped contribute 2.5 million pounds back into the third sector by us providing the food and then [the charities] making those savings.
What kind of food do you receive?
It is fair to say that anything you find in the supermarket will at some point come through our doors as surplus in some way. Our supply changes on a daily basis, we never know what we are going to get from one day to the next and neither do the organisations that we provide the food to. We create food profiles based on what they are looking for (e.g: fruit, vegetables) but each week they will get something different so the chefs cooking these meals really have to be creative.
What would happen to the food without FareShare?
We redistribute surplus food that would have otherwise gone to waste. The waste would generally be used for anaerobic digestion or stock feed and could possibly even go to landfill. By taking this food from us charities are saving money and saving food that is perfectly good for human consumption from going to waste.
The food here has intact packaging and the same expiry dates as the food that is currently sold at full price in the supermarkets, how is that possible?
What we have here is not ‘reduced to clear’ and ‘back of store’ food. We will get given surplus food because seasons change or food that was mislabeled, but there is a myriad of reasons as to why the surplus food ends up here. A typical scenario for food that ends up here would be: A pallet of chicken kievs has 20 case on it, the supermarket only orders 18 from that particular producer but the producer will not take the two extra cases off the pallet because it is not time/cost effective. The extra cases will arrive to the supermarket along with the rest but cannot be sold. Traditionally this food would then go to waste. We try to prevent this by asking retailers to secure the right to divert this food to us instead.
What role do volunteers play at FareShare?
Here in London we have six paid staff, everyone else is a volunteer. We largely rely on volunteers to do our driving, packing, telephoning, absolutely everything. Because we are a charity ourselves and we cannot afford to pay enough staff, we would not exist without these volunteers. We try and give back to them as much as we can in terms of training and development. Some volunteers come to us because they are long term unemployed and they want to get skills so we do forklift and food safety training and we have a volunteer coordinator who provides structured support (help with interviews and CVs for example). We are always looking for more volunteers!
How do you guarantee you recipients that the food that you provide safe and how do you guarantee your suppliers that their food reaches the people in need?
Part of the reason FareShare has achieved what it has, is that we have worked hard with the food industry to build their confidence in the fact that the food they donate will be used in the correct way. Every charity and organisation that we sign up to be a member of FareShare is effectively audited, so we check that they have environmental health ratings, food safety training, we visit their premises and make sure we understand exactly what the project is about and what they will be doing with the food. On our side, we are constrained by exactly the same regulations as supermarkets. We are independently audited once a year and the London centre has had a gold award every time.
2014/15 has been the biggest year so far for FareShare, what do you think contributed to that?
There are lots of different factors. We have been an independent charity for the past ten years and through these years we have worked tirelessly with the food industry to build their confidence in what we do and to unlock where the surplus food is. A lot of the work was down to working with the industry to make them realise that there is an alternative channel for food waste. Partly our success is also due to the fact that there is an increasing need. We have been through massive periods of austerity, which means that there are more people at risk of poverty but also that organisations have had to reduce their food budgets. And food is important because for a lot of the organisations we work with, food is the hook that gets people coming through their doors.
What is your vision for the future?
Our vision is to get to a 100,000 tonnes of food being redistributed from the food industry because we think that there is a billion tonnes of edible food out there that could be redistributed. 100,000 sounds like a big number but in comparison it’s not so much. If we achieved that, it would mean that we could be indirectly contributing about a quarter of a billion pounds to the third sector. So by using FareShare to redistribute their surplus food, the food industry would be the second largest contributor to the third sector just after the Big Lottery.
Visit www.fareshare.org.uk to find out more about their amazing work!