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.

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