Annual Reception 2024

At our annual reception at St Sidwell’s Community Centre on 20th March there was a palpable sense of goodwill in the air which, for anyone present, would have been hard not to feel.

Our chair of trustees and of the reception, Nigel Walsh, having extended a warm welcome to all and thanks to our 55 volunteers and 3 staff, introduced the first speaker, our coordinator, Elizabeth Butland.

Guiding the audience through an photo review of the year, she provided an inspiring, month by month record of our work in 2023, securing, storing and delivering food to the 64 food banks and community groups we support. Featuring volunteers throughout, harvesting pumpkins, lugging crates of food around, driving the vans that deliver our food, it painted a well-curated and telling picture of just how reliant and grateful we are for the vitality they bring. Quite literally, it keeps our wheels turning.

Speaking of last year’s record redistribution of approximately 118 tonnes of food, more than in any previous year, Elizabeth provided a revealing breakdown of what this actually means. It’s a weight roughly equivalent to 281,438 meals and potential savings of over £400,000 for the thousands of people supported by the groups to which we deliver.

Our volunteers were referred to throughout the evening as both the backbone and beating heart of what we do. Our volunteer coordinator, Wendy Kearns, displaying the thoughtful sensitivity for which she’s known, insisting that attendees hear a volunteer’s voice rather than her own, introduced the next speaker, our volunteer, Stu Pearce.

The many stories we have to tell are compelling, the volunteer experience being one of the most significant given the part they all play in our work. Many come to us while navigating a change in their lives, on retirement or because of ill health or bereavement, some simply because they have time on their hands. From wherever they come, all share a commitment to what we do, which, quite simply, we couldn’t do without them.

Stu spoke eloquently of what being a volunteer means to him, and of his story, sharing the personal challenges he faces, ill health having curtailed his career as a teacher. His presentation was a lesson in positivity and, displaying evidence that none of his professional skills were lost, was delivered with candour and good humour.

If he had a message it was that his relationship with and commitment to EFA is of value to to him, as is the case for all of our volunteers. It’s a bit of a stretch to say that we’re family but it feels that way sometimes, as it did during Stu’s presentation. We’re not of course but he spoke of a well-oiled machine of which he’s grateful to be a part, as we are to him and to so many in our team.

Volunteer and trustee, Andy Kemp, then gave a presentation on publicity and fundraising, providing an account of our efforts during 2023 to raise awareness of what we do and, crucially, the funds that make it possible (full disclosure: the author of this post is one and the same, so the standard of his/my presentation is for others to decide!).

Over the last year we’ve taken numerous steps to ensure that our story reaches a wider audience, too many to mention here, but all designed to strengthen our appeal to potential supporters, with which we’ve had some tangible success. In 2023 we saw a £73,046 (117.37%) increase on the previous year’s total income, which went from £62,280 in 2022 to £135,326 in 2023. Similarly, we saw an increase in donations (185%), which rose from £13,563 in 2022 to £38,738 in 2023. It was a team effort and something of which we can all be proud

There are many factors that played a part but our overriding theme has been one of enhancing and spreading the good story we have to tell. As previously mentioned, it’s a compelling one, as was seen in our reception’s presentations, and one we need to keep on telling, a theme continued by trustee, Sue Ford, in hers, which followed and looked at opportunities in the year ahead.

Sue spoke of our focus on sustainability and the need to think always of how best to keep on doing what we do, often requiring diversification and new approaches to the challenges we face. She reiterated the importance of support for our hard-working staff and volunteers, and of the need to build on the strength of our trustee body, offering an open invitation to people with the skills and experience we need now and in will in the future.

The road ahead is rarely straight or even and the combined impact of rising demand and falling supply, something reported by the food banks we support and reflected nationally, points to some twists, turns and bumps along the way. But, as Nigel suggested in his opening remarks, we have good will on our side, demonstrated in what was, by any measure, an inspiring gathering of EFA staff, volunteers and friends, all with plenty to spare.

We are immensely grateful to St Sidwell’s Community Centre for hosting our reception, providing refreshments, projector and screen. Among many other services for the local community the centre runs a community café, bakery and cookery school, as well as volunteering and work-experience opportunities across all areas of their work.

EFA Wins Sustainability Award

Trustee, Andy Kemp, and Volunteer Coordinator, Wendy Kearns (centre)

With Exeter City Council declaring a commitment to making the city carbon neutral by 2030, the Exeter Sustainability Awards recognise and champion individuals and organisations making strides in the field. In November of last year we decided to try for an award and were delighted to hear in February that we were finalists in the community group / charity / non-profit category.

Our category recognises projects of sustainable energy, climate resilience, environmental and social best practice, or environmental and social innovation. We thought that rescuing and delivering food weighing as much as three jumbo jets, preventing much of it going to landfill, placed us in a reasonably good position and made what we thought was a compelling case.

In the UK we produced around 10.7 million tonnes of food waste in 2021, 6.4 million tonnes of which (60%) came from households. Many of us think that scraping excess food from a pan or dish, or just disposing of that wilting cabbage we’d overlooked in the fridge into our kitchen bin, is pretty harmless. Doesn’t most food biodegrade naturally over time?

Actually no – in landfill, for example, things are a bit different. With the weight of layers of waste on top of the food the process is starved of a key component of natural decay. Anaerobic digestion is the scientific term, which in lay terms means ‘without oxygen’ and, although decay occurs, oxygen starvation changes the process into one that generates substantial amounts of methane gas as the food breaks down. A US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report suggests that methane gas is up to 28 times more harmful than carbon dioxide (CO2), trapping planet warming heat in the atmosphere. So, with a pitch that we help to reduce climate harming levels of methane in the atmosphere, while simultaneously enabling support for people experiencing food insecurity, we thought we were in with a chance.

On the 22nd of March EFA’s volunteer coordinator, Wendy Kearns, and trustee, Andy Kemp, attended the awards ceremony, hopeful of success but also conscious of the many excellent submissions that accompanied EFA’s. With bated breath they observed awards for several categories, announced by Emma Askew, an environmental researcher and founder and director of Earth Minutes, an organisation with ‘a mission to drive the future of environmental thinking and learning’. When our category’s turn came, as camera lights flashed and heart beats went into overdrive, it was announced that, of the six finalists, Exeter Food Action had come joint second, pipped to the post by an eminently deserving winner, a Royal Devon & Exeter NHS project minimising the carbon footprint of anaesthetic gases.

Receiving a ‘Highly Commended’ award was a great honour and, although there was no time for Oscar-like acceptance speeches, the award must surely be dedicated to and shared with all of our hard-working staff and dedicated volunteers, indeed everyone who has played a part in our success by supporting the work that we do, getting good quality, nutritious food on to the tables of people who need it.

But as the award acknowledged, it’s not just that. Since the industrial revolution, methane gas has been responsible for around 30% of the rise in global temperatures. Reductions in methane emissions are key to limiting near-term warming and improving air quality. We can be proud of the fact that Exeter Food Action is playing a meaningful part in that too.

Exeter Sustainability Awards

Food Waste Action Week

Yesterday marked the start of Food Waste Action Week (18-24 March). It’s an annual initiative bringing together businesses, government, organisations etc. to support people in developing the tools they need to cut food waste in their homes.

Over 4 million tonnes of edible food is thrown away each year by UK households, 25% of it because people prepare, cook or serve too much. The cost to UK households is estimated to be around £4.9 billion each year.

This year we’ve teamed up with local friends/partners and they’ve committed to lend us a hand and, at the same time, raise awareness of food waste.

Most of us have ‘miss buys’ in our kitchen cupboards – food we’ve bought but will probably never use – and once it’s passed its use by date, it’s no good to anyone and more often than not it ends up as food waste.

West Exe School, Green Resource Engineering Ltd., Amazon Logistics, Progressive (roofing & cladding contractor), David Lloyd Exeter, Devon Contract Waste, Devon Contract Waste Polymers and Coastal Recycling are all going to be asking their pupils, employees etc. to spring clean their cupboards to see what food they can spare, and already food is rolling in. We’re so very grateful for their support.

We can accept any food that hasn’t passed its use by date and, if lots of people donate just one tin or pack each, it’ll make a huge difference.

Thank you!

Exeter Food Action Impact Report

In January 2024 we conducted a survey of the sixty-four food banks and community groups to which we deliver. We wanted to assess the impact of our service on the groups themselves and on the thousands of people they support.

It’s only a snapshot but, nevertheless, provides useful evidence of the value and impact of what we do. It also points to the likely challenges we will face in 2024, highlighted in red below: 66% of respondents have seen a fall in the availability of donated food and 73% an increase in demand.

A report on the survey will feature in our March newsletter and will soon be available to view/download here. An interim summary appears below.

Of the groups surveyed:

  • 97% think that we provide good quality food
  • 83% think that we provide a good variety of food
  • 100% think that reducing food waste is important
  • 40% think that their service helps to improve people’s mental health
  • 29% think that their service helps to improve people’s physical health
  • 26% think that their service helps to improve people’s general health
  • 78% think that their service helps to reduce people’s isolation
  • 62% think that their service helps people save money for essentials
  • 88% think that our support helps them manage their own resources
  • 100% rate Exeter Food Action’s service as good, very good or excellent
  • 66% have seen a fall in the availability of donated food
  • 73% have seen an increase in demand

A new partnership with Citizens Advice

Citizens Advice (CA) is a national charity with a network of local charities offering free, confidential advice online, over the phone and in person. Last year, aware of their wish to work with partners able to help them reach consumers unable to access the internet, or who are at risk of fuel poverty, we approached their national office.

In the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, in which fuel and food poverty often come hand in hand, and with our regular contact with 64 food banks and community groups, we thought that an EFA/CA partnership could be of mutual benefit.

Not everyone is aware of potential support available, as evidenced by a report last year by Policy in Practice, a social policy software and analytics company working with councils, government, housing providers and community organisations. They estimate that unclaimed benefits worth £19 billion are available to millions of UK households struggling with the financial burden of rising expenses as the cost-of-living crisis continues.

With research indicating that 11 million people, over 16% of the population, can’t afford their bills or credit card repayments, and with so many not knowing where to turn, what to do, or what support is available, we thought that a partnership with CA made sense. For as long as there’s a need we’ll always be there for the organisations to which we deliver but, if we can play a small part in maximising people’s income so that fewer people need to use food banks, it’s a part we’d like to play.

Starting this year, thanks to our partnership agreed with CA, as well as food, we’ll be distributing information about potential sources of support to all the organisations to which we deliver. CA have provided us with 16,000 postcards in bundles of 100, which will enable us to provide each organisation with 250.

Although some will need more or fewer depending on their size, and they certainly won’t need them all at once, this will enable us to provide just the right number to each one and continue to do so periodically for as long as they last or are needed.

All CAs in Devon are listed below, information that we’ll be sharing with every food bank and community group, and there’ll be regular updates in our newsletter and here on our website.

Anyone can find their nearest CA via this link.