Charity boss on facing challenges during hard times
“Everything we do at Fareshare is a challenge,” remarks Simone Connolly in an astute voice coupled with a determined expression of relentlessness, writes Feron Jayawardene.
Simone is the Chief Executive of Fareshare Midlands, the largest surplus food redistribution charity in the region. She started working with Fareshare Midlands 16 years ago, just after her first son was born.
Adamant to move away from her already established job in the IT field, she tells me that she wanted to give something back to the community and to take on a job that was more aligned to new motherhood.
“I started working for the Church of England. During this time, several refugee charities were appealing to the Church in need of help with food to support the increasing numbers of refugees arriving in the city. After researching about organisations that could help this crisis, we discovered Fareshare Birmingham.”
Now, Fareshare Midlands redistributes over 500 tonnes of surplus food every month to nearly 600 charities and community groups across the Midlands. During the past year, they have delivered the equivalent of 13 million meals of surplus food.
“Fareshare is the UK’s longest running food redistribution charity” Simone says.
“When surplus food occurs across the food supply chain, we receive the food into our warehouses and then redistribute it to frontline charities and community groups across the country.
“Surplus food can occur due to many different reasons, from forecasting and packaging errors to produce being not quite the right shape or size for retailers to sell onto their customers.”
Their distribution model is similar to a normal supply and demand model; if not exactly the same. The main difference is the demand coming from charities and community groups while the supply is relying on surplus food. This makes it an ongoing challenge and a balancing act, especially during a cost of living crisis, she says.
Fareshare national statistics reveal that 14 million people face food insecurity in the UK, while two million tonnes of food that goes to waste in the UK food industry each year is still edible.
Research also reveals that three million tonnes of good-to-eat food is wasted on UK farms every year, the equivalent of 6.9 billion meals. At the same time, 96 per cent of charities claimed to have been directly affected by the cost of living crisis with more and more people falling into poverty and at a faster rates than seen for decades.
Talking about the cost of living crisis, Simone says:
“The current cost of living crisis exacerbated by the Ukraine and Russia conflict have caused an unprecedented and unexpected challenge in the food industry which directly impacts our operations.
“FareShare have sent an open letter, signed by thousands of charities to the government to invest £25 million into food redistribution. Disappointingly, but not surprising, it wasn’t announced in the Spring budget.
“If this investment is secured, it will make it cost neutral for many food companies and in particular farmers and growers to re-redistribute their food. With evidence suggesting that over 6.9 billion meals are wasted every year we know the food is there. However, the profit margins for these organisations are so squeezed.
“The reality is they cannot afford to redistribute it – it’s just too expensive.”
The workforce behind this immense operation comes from staff and volunteering.
Simone explains: “Volunteering is a unique and rewarding experience and I would encourage anyone to come join us and see for yourself. Corporate volunteering is also a great team day for your employees.”
“We also run employability programmes for people who are unemployed or who never have been employed.
“The Chamber helps us to reach audiences that we probably wouldn’t have been able to reach and raise awareness of our charity, especially through their newsletters and magazine.”
Before drawing the meeting to a close, I ask her the reason of starting a community centric volunteering role at a time when most parents even struggle to just work with a newborn
“I was compelled.
“I didn’t really have the time to volunteer, but this was something that compelled me to get involved. I saw people going hungry and food being wasted at the same time and I needed to understand a bit more about this.
“The more I started to understand the level of food waste and poverty, the more my ambition grew to continue the project I started. There is nothing more worthwhile than helping people in poverty and at the same time helping to protect our precious planet from the devastating impact of unnecessary food waste.”