In 2009, FoodCycle hosted its first community dinner. Ten years later, the charity now welcomes 1,400 guests through its doors each week. Octopus Giving charity coordinator Niki Graham tells us about the difference FoodCycle makes to communities across the UK.
London, May 2009. Canadian chef Kelvin Cheung turns unwanted food from local supermarkets into meals for people at risk of food poverty. In doing so, Kelvin launches FoodCycle: a movement that’s providing nourishment and companionship for people across the UK.
“What FoodCycle does is incredible,” says Niki Graham, Marketing Executive at Octopus Investments, and former Octopus Giving Volunteer of the Month. “They bring communities together with weekly and nutritious three-course meals, all made from food that otherwise would go to waste.”
But FoodCycle’s work isn’t just incredible: it’s also essential. To celebrate its 10th birthday, FoodCycle has launched the FoodCycle Social Impact Report – an in-depth look at what the charity has achieved, and what’s still left to be done.
Incomes are falling. Food prices are rising. For people on lower incomes, the weekly shop is a bigger struggle than ever before.
Research from Kellogg’s found UK’s poorest households aren’t able to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Some are being forced to cut back on fruit by 20% and vegetables by 12%.
FoodCycle helps fill this gap. After going to FoodCycle, 76% of guests eat more fruit and vegetables. And 81% have tried new foods for the first time.
Under-nourishment is just one issue FoodCycle is helping solve. By bringing thousands of people together every week, FoodCycle is a way to deal with loneliness, too.
Loneliness is an increasing problem in UK society. Last year, the UK government expanded the Minister for Sport and Civil Society’s brief to include loneliness. And as the Social Impact Report points out, nine million adults in Britain are ‘often or always lonely.’
Many of FoodCycle’s guests live with poor health, long-term illnesses or disabilities. That means they’re even more likely to experience loneliness. 72% of guests feel lonely, while 26% can’t work due to health conditions.
“It’s not just about getting a healthy meal,” says Niki. “Just as important is the way FoodCycle bring lonely and vulnerable people together.”
It’s a strategy that’s working. 85% of guests say they’ve met people from different backgrounds at FoodCycle. Even better, 77% make new friends.
The cost of food waste in the UK is enormous. Over 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas is emitted every year producing food that nobody eats. And that’s not counting the cost used to transport it around the country.
In ten years, FoodCycle has saved 424,895 kg of food waste – or, to put it another way, turned unwanted food into 1,011,655 meals.
“Volunteers collect unwanted food from local supermarkets and delis, then look at what they can make from it,” says Niki, who helps out at the Hackney FoodCycle project. “It’s a bit like the old TV show Ready Steady Cook. We assess what’s on the table, then get to work. When I first volunteered, we made a mixed vegetable soup, roasted veg pasta, and banana bread and butter pudding.”
Octopus Giving partnered with FoodCycle in 2018. With our help, FoodCycle estimate they’ll serve an extra 18,000 three-course meals, save 23 tonnes more of surplus food, and take on 1,000 more volunteers.
But Octopus Giving provides more than just financial support. Last year, our volunteers donated more than 160 hours of their time, helping out with everything from washing-up dishes to fixing IT problems.
“It’s all about getting hands-on and being as useful as possible. Whether it’s volunteering at a project or opening up the office for First Aid training, it all makes a difference,” says Niki. “FoodCycle has quite a small team, so we’ve got the people to solve any issues they might have outside of their expertise.”
And in return, Niki explains, Octopus Giving has learnt so much from FoodCycle: “Last September, we invited FoodCycle CEO Mary McGrath to visit the Octopus head office to talk about food waste, and to demonstrate how people can get involved with the charity. Around 60 people from across Octopus came to the talk. It was great to see so many people fired-up about helping.”
Colleagues from across Octopus have grasped the chance to help – like Uliana Kuzmis, Senior Development Underwriter at Octopus Property, who won last month’s Volunteer of the Month for her work with FoodCycle.
“What’s really great about FoodCycle is how many opportunities they have for volunteering,” says Niki. “There are 40 projects across the country – and plenty of washing up to get done!”
Want to learn more about the difference FoodCycle makes? Read the full report here.