A New Journey – A Founder’s Thoughts and Reflections

A new blog from our very own Chris Woodfield……

It’s an exciting time to be alive. Here, at Aber Food Surplus we are about to announce and release an exciting and new job opportunity following our successful grant funding application from the Big Lottery Fund. Watch this space, coming soon! 

This comes at a time when I am stepping back from the core day-to-day running of operations and moving on to new adventures elsewhere in the World. So, I thought I would offer some thoughts and reflections on my time on the ground at Aber Food Surplus, as well as Aberystwyth more generally, and set the scene for someone else to bring their best self to the team.  

First of all, wow, it has been amazing. Spending the past couple of years co-founding and developing this beautiful little not-for-profit on the wild west coast of Wales with two lovely individuals has been a truly wonderful experience. Heather and Chris B will always have a special place in my heart and we came into this not even knowing each other, so it’s quite something that our relationships have blossomed into life-time friendships (let’s hope they’ll say the same!). 

In reality though, as Myself, Heather and Chris have been the “face” and the driving force behind Aber Food Surplus, our collective vision, energy, impacts and achievements have been shaped and led by and with our community. Whether this is our hard-working and always smiling volunteers, supporters attending our events, kind individuals offering us financial donations, interested people and professionals guiding our Steering Group, those offering us business advice, local organisations and groups collaborating with us, or people simply saying “well done, keep it up”, it all makes a difference and creates our larger Aber Food Surplus family. So, thank you, we couldn’t have done it without you.   

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As all good stories come in three’s, I am going to offer three reflections of why it has been so great working at Aber Food Surplus and three key thoughts moving forward to leave you with.   

Firstly, something we are incredibly passionate about and keen to continually discuss is the fact that we are tackling the root cause of a problem, not the symptoms. Food waste is a huge environmental issue, if food waste was a country it would be the third biggest emitter of greenhouse gas emissions after the US and China, see more here and here.

As a food waste, or surplus, organisation often we are lumped together with food banks and food poverty. Some key governmental organisations and the UK government itself has stated that food surplus is a solution to solving food poverty. However, we disagree, as these are two separate issues and us collecting supermarket food waste and redistributing it to vulnerable people is not the answer, to a) solving food waste and b) solving food poverty. 

This is because it is not addressing the reasons why food poverty exists in the first place and it is an unreliable supply, some weeks we collect over 200kg of food in one night, other weeks there is nothing. Therefore, this cannot be a reliable, healthy and empowering food source for those relying on this service. This is something we always communicate and are transparent about. We call this emergency food relief; a useful analogy might be taking painkillers for a headache rather than stopping, relaxing and figuring out why you might have a headache in the first place. 

Additionally, collecting surplus food doesn’t prevent food waste from occurring. You could argue, if anything, it encourages the supermarkets to continue to waste food because they know it is going to be collected, or is going to “charity” which is also a very good PR story for the supermarket, and a transferring of responsibility and cost to the receiver, i.e. us. In an ideal world there wouldn’t be any food waste for us to collect and the supermarket would have systems in place to monitor, analyse and take action to ensure that it did not produce any food waste, whether at store level or throughout its supply chain. This is interesting, because after 3 and a half years of collecting food waste, we are still here, collecting. However, we genuinely believe we are making a difference, and we keep putting the pressure on, sticking to our core and highlighting the fact that big problems can be solved by ordinary people taking action. Lastly, we believe it’s better to be working within the system, collaborating with businesses to see how we can work together to tackle the root cause of why this food is being wasted. So often in the environmental and social movement world, it is viewed as “us” against “them”. We disagree, and believe collaboration is key and working together is the way forward.  

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The second key reflection is simply, surround yourself with beautiful people and beautiful things will happen. One of the main reasons we have achieved so much here at Aber Food Surplus is that we have put ourselves out there, been bold and ambitious leaders, developed a vision and delivered this passionately. I learnt recently that the definition of a leader is “helping any group of two or more people achieve their common goals”. I would say I have accidently become a leader and we have a shared common goal, or vision, which we have co-created and developed, an exciting, creative and rewarding journey in itself. Then, we have tried our best to deliver it. Why? Because we care, and we love what we do; I am motivated to get up every day and know I am coming to work to learn, grow and collaborate with two beautiful people working on something we are passionate about which has a purpose. It’s amazing and I am very excited for the next person coming into work with Aber Food Surplus! 

The third key reflection is that we are doing things differently. We are a business. We are a not-for-profit social enterprise, but we are still a business. We believe that business as usual is not good enough and is one of the main reasons why we are in this mess (i.e. climate change, etc). However, we see this as an opportunity to change things for the better. We believe we must be inspiring role models and create the World we would like to live in, and live that change ourselves, as individuals as active and engaged citizens but also as an organisation. 

That is why, for example, we are a Living Wage accredited employer, we have a flat, non-hierarchical structure, we only work a maximum of 30 hours per week, we put human wellbeing and happiness at the heart of what we do, we have breaks (and take them!), we go for runs, walks, cycles, swims, spend time in nature, or just do nothing! It doesn’t matter what we wear, as long as we are happy and comfortable. We focus on bringing our best self to work and if we need to do something, we do it. Or if we have a problem, or would like to talk about it, we talk about. We are friends. Communication is essential. A problem shared is a problem halved, but not always, it’s up to you! We are all learning together and bring a curious, open and inclusive mindset with us as well as a solutions-focused approach.  

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Those were just three things why it has been such a pleasure to co-found, create, develop and grow Aber Food Surplus to a beautiful, thriving and flourishing organisation. I will still be involved behind the scenes but I’m very excited for someone new to join and help it grow even more.  

So, to finish and offer three key thoughts moving forward. The first is open your eyes to life as was said to me 8 years ago when I walked the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Northern Spain. Enough said, that’s pretty self-explanatory. The second is slow is fast, i.e. when you slow down and just be, beautiful things can happen. Take your time, don’t rush, think, but also don’t just think, act. “Be” and “Do” together. We need to act now but do it in a way which is meaningful, purposeful and courageous. Challenge and push the boundaries. Thirdly, when we think and act, use our heads, hands and hearts together. Embrace the journey. Let’s go. We are on the cusp of something beautiful and this is the most challenging but exciting time to be alive. Aberystwyth has the potential to be a pioneering, not just zero-food waste town, but zero-carbon town, a leading exemplar of how to live beautiful lives but how to do this in a thriving, sustainable, ethical, environmentally and socially responsible way. Let’s begin. What are you waiting for? Actions speak louder than words. Do you want to be part of the problem, or part of the solution?  

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Aber Food Surplus