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Learning about Fare Share SW

Fare Share SW logo

Our speaker was Eileen Togneri, a Trustee who tells her story of her involvement with FareShare SW. She was accompanied by Ralf Togneri who is a Volunteer Van Driver for Fare Share. They are based in Bristol.

Fare Share Trustee and volunteer van driver Eileen and Ralf Togneri

Fare Share UK started as an offshoot of the homeless charity Crisis. In 2004 it became the independent charity Fare Share. It moved on to develop bases, run on a franchise basis in London, S Yorks, Dundee, Edinburgh, and Brighton.  In 2006 they mooted expanding to Birmingham and Bristol, and that is where I come in…

I started as the first and only volunteer at FareShare SW in 2007. Recommended by a friend to contact a lovely woman called Suzie – who had a plan to get me interested. I met her in a hot desk office space when she told me about the project. Suzie had been seconded to lead the Bristol project – and was the only paid employee.  And I was the only volunteer.

Our key Principles – The three prongs

Our principle is like a three-legged stool. The prongs are fighting hunger, tackling food waste, and helping vulnerable people back to work by training through volunteering. That is still how it works.

Our founding people on the Bristol side had secured funding for a warehouse. They also sourced a van that was funded by Fare Share, and the rest was down to us.  Our founders had set up a CIC called Community Initiatives SW, and away we went. 

Getting our first warehouse

In September 2007 we opened the doors to our lovely huge warehouse. Suzie and I (she full-time, me 2 days a week) got on with arranging fitting it out. This involved installing racking and a cold room.  We were the only organisation able to distribute chilled fresh food.

Fare Share Fresh food loaded into chiller van
The chiller van loaded ready to deliver to local charities

It took a couple of weeks. And then we had a chiller van and the food started arriving – arranged in the main by FareShareUK.  So I was girl Friday, Suzie was the boss, and on we went.  Our immediate need was for volunteers – there was never going to be enough money to pay anyone other than Suzie.

Attracting volunteers

So I started recruiting and it was easy. We had a queue of applicants, and in the time I was the volunteer coordinator. I recruited about 200 volunteers. Some were a small core of long-termers and others who stayed for a short time and moved on.

Our model (and all franchises are different)  was based on needing to fundraise for core costs. Clearly, that was a major concern for Suzie.  So we became a charity and started to charge a membership fee to fund a small percentage of our costs.  That model still applies.  However more and more small charities and other organisations working with vulnerable people have found our services to be indispensable. Their fee – our core funding – costs them about a tenth of what it would cost to buy food.

We have been through thick and thin, struggling to make ends meet. All the while we’ve watched the need increase. But over the last four years, we’ve managed to become a sustainable charity. We are slowly improving how we work and our fundraising efforts.  We were growing and getting ambitious to expand – and then…

The pandemic struck

And the last year has turned us completely around – trebling our work and our income – temporarily. We have been working with local and national govt, and funding has been flowing in, and food. 

Fare Share SW Warehouse crates of fresh produce
Preparing boxes to go out for delivery

We have made an exception to our principle of working with as close to 100% surplus food as poss, and have risen to the challenge of distributing food for families and children suffering in the Covid crisis.  Businesses and food manufacturers and retailers as well as govt have understood the need and stepped up.  As have we. Through the crisis we had more volunteers, food, vans, funding, storage space than ever before

Bristol City FC lent us space under their stadium and then an empty warehouse they own.  Companies lent and gave vans, food companies, like Field and Flower, gave surplus food and fundraised via their customers, there are so many stories I could tell you…

So at the  cost of  utter exhaustion of our staff – by now beginning to grow in number, just to manage the 3 to 4 fold increase in our work – we rose to the challenge.. and you can read the latest statistics by downloading the file below

Widening our geographical reach

We also had been planning to expand into Devon and Cornwall – later this year – but the call for help came from them at the start of the crisis, and we had to step up, so we now send food to Exeter and Plymouth by the van load.  The geography makes it difficult logistically to afford to distribute as far as Cornwall, and they have no closer major distribution centres (food retailers) than Avonmouth.   Our plans were always challenging, but the Covid crisis has kicked us into action and solutions have been found. 

With the help of ASDA and Big Lottery funding, and others, we have managed to work out a system of partnership working with projects working in Devon and in Cornwall, which we will continue to develop as the crisis fades away. 

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