Food Works Sheffield

Third Sector • Sheffield

The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield was set up as a food waste campaign in 2015, and has since developed catering activities, educational programs and opened a market all using surplus food.

  • We run a zero-waste cafe at Food Works Sharrow and Upperthorpe.
  • The Food Works Farm provides veg for 2000 meals a year.
  • Our volunteers are the heart of Food Works!

Food Works Sheffield's Story

The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield was set up in May 2015 as a food waste campaign with the slogan 'Feeding bellies, not bins' to address the vast amounts of food waste (30% of all food is wasted), and the resulting environmental damage and social injustice this causes. We did this by upcycling and redistributing surplus food from businesses in community cafe settings. The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield was incorporated as 'Bin Cooking Ltd.' in August 2015.

Engagement with our work has been very high from the beginning. This allowed us to double in size every quarter over the first 3 years. After the first 18 months, this growth was also facilitated by a loan and grant from Key Fund, which allowed us to transition from a fully voluntary-run organisation to one with a professional core to better support and further our mission. We developed catering activities, educational programs and opened a market. All these activities used surplus food and were designed to be self-funding through flexible donations.

In 2018/19 the organisation went through a second transition. We were no longer satisfied with campaigning for change. While public engagement with our messages was high, structural change in businesses and government was negligible and so we decided that we would be the change we were campaigning for.

In January 2019, we formally rebranded to 'Food Works' and we shifted from being a campaign for fair and sustainable food, to an organisation that would build working examples of fair and sustainable food in Sheffield. Together with several other Sheffield-based organisations, we revived the 'Sustainable Food Places' network in Sheffield to bring people and organisations together around better food. We also started the work on a change of governance in Food Works from a lean model based on 3 executive directors, to a model with a broader directorate and board with significant expertise and representation from across the city.

COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown were a trial by fire for the renewed organisation. One we passed with flying colours. We restructured our activities overnight to focus on a COVID-safe emergency response.

Food Works has been open every single day since January 1st 2020, since then we have...
- transformed our kitchen activities from community cafes and events to a meal delivery service, providing over 10,000 meals across the city.
- adapted our market to a box collection site, expanding from providing 450 grocery boxes per week to more than 800.
- expanded our volunteer team from 230 to 370.
- expanded our redistributed volume of food from an annualised 350 tonnes to more than 500. The environmental impact of this is equivalent to taking 400 cars off the road permanently or planting a forest of 50,000 trees.
- raised £100,000 in emergency grants and donations.

Our response has put Food Works at the heart of the city's food resilience, and we plan to be at the heart of its recovery.

Useful Learnings from Food Works Sheffield

We started out by joining the grassroots organisation 'The Real Junk Food Project' in 2015. In 2019, we became an independent organisation and changed our name to Food Works. Since then we have grown to employ 14 people with 300+ volunteers all helping to reduce food waste and build a fair and sustainable food system in Sheffield.

As a social enterprise we have always been self-funded through our activities, we did, however, approach Key Fund for a loan for premises after the equipment and food started taking over 3 rooms of the founder's house. The loan and grant helped us rent a large warehouse and employ a member of staff.

We've grown rapidly since day 1, doubling every 3 months in the first 3 years. It's hard to keep up with that pace without a strong financial backing and we had to make a lot of personal sacrifices to keep going.

Our impact and reach have always been huge, we were never happy to settle for helping a handful of people when we could be doing it for thousands. This did come with a trade-off that meant working very long hours to keep afloat.

Overall the best advice would be to have a clear plan, a rainy day fund and understand that progress will not be linear. It will always come with obstacles. Be sure where your boundaries are and learn that it is ok to say no every now and again! Asking for help and being open and honest about what you can do yourself is key to longevity.

Food Works Sheffield's Metrics

Tonnes of food saved from landfill
Amount of people fed

Feeling inspired? Discover more about this story...

Location

Sheffield

Response to climate crisis

Mitigation & Adaptation

Reach

Area

Organisation

Third Sector, 50 to 249 people

Shared by

Jo Hercberg

Updated Feb, 2024

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