Some big and exciting changes at FoodCycle – by Kelvin Cheung
If you don’t know me, let me first introduce myself. I’m Kelvin, the person that was fortunate enough to have had the opportunity to start FoodCycle.
In 2008, we had a dream… but before we talk about that let’s do a little bit of a rewind… to 2006 as the question is always why is a Chinese Canadian running a UK based food charity. The answer? Why not?! I came over to London after I finished my undergraduate degree. The plan? Get a Masters in International Development, then get a teaching degree, then go back to Toronto with the vision of getting a job at my old high school and teaching and inspiring the students there.
Looking back… I think I went off course quite a bit. What went wrong? Well, 7 years I’ve been here, and I’ve got a couple of people to blame for this.
1) Michael Norton – for introducing me to Robert Egger and the Campus Kitchens Project in the United States, and providing the initial funding to investigate the feasibility of setting up something similar in the UK.
2) Lily Lapenna – for introducing me to the terribly friendly and passionate world of social enterprise. Interning at MyBnk for 6 months right when they were about to take off as an organisation gave me a lot of the skills needed to ‘just do it’ when FoodCycle was first starting.
3) UnLtd – for giving us our first official start up grant of £5000 to trial out the idea at one location, and to give what essentially was a young person with very little work experience a chance.
4) My parents – for their support and, as my dad was an entrepreneur himself, when I first started, his support in not telling me to ‘get real and get a proper job.’
5) The other first ‘believers’ in FoodCycle, who are too many to name. Those with us right at the beginning include the Esmee Fairbairn Foundation in 2009 for funding us for our first 2 years, and to pay me so I could do this full time. I still remember when I got the email… there was amazement and fear. Amazement that such a new project would get 2 years of funding from one of the most well-known foundations in the UK. Fear… in that now I actually had to do all that I said I was going to do.
Also, special thanks go to The Funding Network for supporting us for the whole ride, from community cafe pilots to funding our recent new database – you guys are great in terms of funding the ‘things that need funding’ and often go unnoticed in the background! And sorry if I haven’t put you in here, or this might go on for a while… but you amazing people know who you are! Some are here!
We’ve looked back – those were fun times, now come back to the present.
This September, FoodCycle will be 5 years old. We’ve got a network of 14 Hubs, with over 1,000 volunteers, and we’ve served over 60,000 meals over our lifetime. We’ve got a thriving café in East London that serves delicious coffee and trains people to get back into employment, not to mention that they have a killer catering menu – we also do weddings, bar mitzvahs, and christenings!
Some moments that will forever be etched into my memory (for better or worse…)
- Our first cook at LSE in May 2009 – at the Fleet River Bakery when it took us until 11 pm to cook up a soup that looked like Russian Gulag soup. Not only did it look like grey gruel, we had to leave it to cool overnight so the café staff coming in the day after, for obvious reasons, gave us a rather interesting call first thing in the morning. Not the best outcome as essentially it took us 8 months to reach this first cooking session.
- Tasting some of the best half frozen grapes I have ever had while I was giving them away (loose!) by the handful in a freak snow storm at Feeding the 5000 2009 in Trafalgar Square.
- Going up to the Hubs to visit, listening and learning about what they’re doing, as each FoodCycle is unique. Too many stories!
- It always brings a smile to my face when I see a person just wearing a FoodCycle T-shirt on the street – it doesn’t happen often, but when it does – it’s awesome.
Why all these reflective thoughts?
Well, 5 years on, it’s now time to pass the vision to those that really make up FoodCycle and make it grow – the trustees, staff, and most important of all, the volunteers all over the country – to take it to the next stage – to grow FoodCycle stronger, faster, better. We’ve got the passion, the plan and the technology.
We’ve got a lot going on. We’re working on a social franchise model, growing the café’s catering and training operations and also getting more into partnership with FareShare through funding from the Cabinet Office to standardize a system of food surplus collection from supermarkets. One thing still eludes us though… I hope we get our very first one of these in the form of Pip our mascot soon.
Why now? Various reasons, but most importantly, I have always wanted FoodCycle to outgrow its founder and pass on the dream to others, let others make it their own, and see the baby that I have brought up over the years take on its own path.
So now it is time, when there is so much potential and opportunity for us, to move towards a different role in the organisation.
Before I leave though, there still is a lot to do. We are going to be recruiting a new CEO – it’s going to be a new post with different responsibilities. FoodCycle is maturing as an organisation and I recognise that for it to grow, it will need to bring in a new leader with a different skillset to myself. See the posting here and pass it on.
If you pass it on to the right person and we hire them, I’ll buy you one of these. I’ll be working with them closely during the transition and then move to an ambassadorial role within the organisation afterwards.
Where am I heading next? Well for the curious – I am going back to Hong Kong, where I’m originally from, and where my parents and family are. It’s been 7 years, and it’s time to go back. The mothership awaits. What will I be doing there? Lots of things – to find out, stay tuned. One thing is for sure, I will be returning to stay in my parents house.
I’m lucky enough to have had the opportunity, and thanks for all those that have been with us so far in making this dream come true.
It’s the end of one journey for me, and the beginning of another.