Copyright meets the team behind FareShare South West and discover how they are feeding the regions poorest and most vulnerable people.

In 2014, the bright young things behind Stokes Croft’s Skipchen made national headlines with the opening of Bristol’s first pay-as-you-go café using food salvaged from supermarket skips. This trendy social enterprise brought much needed attention to the culturally embarrassing and ethically degenerate issue of food waste, but out of the media spotlight, one charity have been championing this cause and – in the process – feeding millions for over 20 years.

A very different organisation with a very different approach to food collection and distribution, FareShare was co-founded in 1994 by homelessness charity Crisis. Known then as Crisis FareShare, the organisation’s remit was to provide food for homeless people in London. Ten years later FareShare became a charity in its own right, widening its reach geographically and socially, promising to help impoverished families, not just those made homeless, with a sustainable food source.

The charity’s mission is twofold, to fight hunger and tackle food waste. There are now 20 FareShare franchises up and down the UK doing just that, one of which, FareShare South West which has a reach as far as Taunton and Stroud, is based in Bristol.

More of an industrial unit than charity headquarters, an overwhelmingly large proportion of FareShare South West’s warehouse is dedicated to collecting, sorting and distributing food to worthy organisations across the region. This is a no-nonsense operation, no bells and whistles, just a clear goal and dedicated team of staff and volunteers to help achieve it.

 

Community focussed

Copyright met the team, squeezed into a small office at the front of the warehouse. Eve Morton is FareShare South West’s Volunteer Manager, ‘Most of our food comes from distribution centres before it reaches the supermarket shelves,’ she says. ‘We get donated food for a number of reasons including if it’s close to its use by date, if a barcode isn’t working or a promotion is out of date.’

Thanks to these marketing quirks, FareShare receive a huge amount of produce every year. In 2013 this was a staggering 7,360 tonnes that would otherwise have ended up being disposed of.

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Volunteers make up the maority of staff.

FareShare’s model is one of community. ‘We distribute the food to over 150 organisations working with vulnerable people,’ says Morton. ‘The money they save on their food bills allows them to concentrate on their core activity, whether this is counselling, support or something else.

‘Our food is delivered to, or collected by, projects such as homeless shelters, refugee centres, day centres for the elderly, youth groups, lots of different places really.’

With thousands of families experiencing food poverty in these difficult economic times FareShare are one of a number of organisations stepping in to support the community. But Eve was clear to point out that although the issue has been widely publicised, it is one that needs continual attention even if, at the moment, there has been a spike.

‘It’s [food poverty] always been there,’ says Morton. ‘Obviously food banks have been in the media quite a lot recently and we do provide resources to them as well, but it’s hard to gauge the increase of the need now.’

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FareShare donates large amounts of food to charity organisations for the elderly.

The food fighters

At the moment FareShare South West have almost 100 volunteers. FareShare volunteers come from all sections of society and offer skills in many areas of the organisation. Volunteer positions are available in the warehouse where logistics are key, while drivers keep the distribution process fluid, transporting food to community groups across the region.

‘We’re looking for people to help with our social media and PR as well,’ says Eve. ‘Our catering arm is the Surplus Supper Club and were always on the hunt for people who can help with organising buffets and events.’

Alongside volunteers from stable, more prosperous backgrounds, FareShare also take on volunteers who are more vulnerable and can use the experience to gain more structure in their lives.

In many ways the FareShare ethos has begun to evolve into a three-tier system: reducing food waste, helping people in poverty receive food and a volunteering programme which can really help people in difficult personal situations get back on their feet.

FareShare South West are currently developing a mentoring scheme where existing volunteers can help more vulnerable members of the team.

While the charity quietly reclaims the mountain of food destined to be pulled out of the food chain, they are also tackling social problems that exist in areas where poverty and disillusionment appear to go hand in hand.

 


Do more

Would you like to help FareShare in its mission to distribute food to those who need it?