As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Even if she gathers among the sheaves, don’t embarrass her. Rather, pull out some stalks for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.” Ruth ch.2 v.15,16
The Lincolnshire Food Partnership is a growing partnership of organisations working together for a food system that is fairer, healthier and sustainable. In this series, I talk with individuals who are playing a role in the partnership about what they and their organisations are doing, and what motivates them to be involved.
Simon Hawking is a board member of the Lincolnshire Food Partnership, and CEO of the Acts Trust. His work arises, in a profound way, from his Christian faith and a desire to use his time and skills to help other people.
In this interview, Simon talks about his passion for working in partnership with others, empowering people to end poverty, and creating opportunities for social responsibility.
Simon, you’re an active member of the Lincolnshire Food Partnership board, and CEO of Acts Trust, a Lincoln charity that works with local residents, to empower them to address root causes of poverty. Tell me a bit about how you came to be doing this work.
I have been working full time in the third sector for 20 years. I’ve got a personal faith and I felt challenged that the thing I should be doing with my life is helping others – not just personal career progression, but having a sense of personal responsibility to others.
I started in youth work (when I was a young person myself!), and then founded the CAP (Christians Against Poverty) debt advice centre, in partnership with Alive Church in Lincoln. It ticked a lot of boxes with my skills – I was always good at maths and I wanted to help others – and I ran that for 10 years.
Alive Church also founded the Acts Trust – with a mission to empower people to end poverty, across the city and in multiple different ways. Poverty can look so different to different people, so the response to poverty is going to look different for different people, too.
Acts was very passionate about meeting the needs where they were, and empowering local volunteers to help. My involvement with Acts grew, and I became senior manager in 2015 and CEO in 2017.
My personal passion is all about empowering individuals: people who are in need of support – it’s not about trying to fix problems for them, but finding ways to empower them. They’ve got the skills and power within themselves to overcome their challenges. And also to empower local volunteers – to create opportunities for people to really make a difference locally.
My other passion is partnership, recognising that as a group of people we can’t be all the solutions for the city – and we shouldn’t be. It’s about recognising what our skills are, and the skills of the organisations around us, and building good relationships – finding where the gaps are, and opportunities for doing things together.
Tell me about your involvement with Lincoln Foodbank
One of Acts’ main projects over the past 12 years is Lincoln Foodbank. That has its origins with a group of friends on St Giles Estate, who started using a spare cupboard in their kitchen to store food in case neighbours needed some, and then that grew to storing it in a caravan in someone’s garden – there were a lot of people in the neighbourhood needing help.
From there, we developed that; it just kept on growing. We made it a city wide project, partnered with the Trussell trust, because they have good systems in place. And now it’s a partnership, with five or six churches across the city. And beyond that – recognising the other organisations with similar aims running food banks – over time we have developed partnership, with shared systems. We came together to form an emergency response group, (to the Covid pandemic) along with the Mint Lane Cafe. We’re trying to work together to be a force for good in the city.
That has come under the umbrella, as a sub group, of Lincolnshire Food Partnership. When I first heard about Lincoln Food Partnership, I recognised that same passion for partnership – that we could do more together than on our own. I was excited by the opportunity to collaborate with organisations with similar aims. That’s my personal journey through all of that. It’s been a really good journey, and there’s more we can do.
How did you find out about the Lincolnshire Food Partnership?
I was first involved when I picked up a flyer for the new Mint Lane Cafe – they were inviting people to come and have a look, have a meal. And we thought we should go and say hi – we’re the foodbank, and we’re round the corner! And at the same time, a document, a brochure, landed on my desk – The Lincoln Food Strategy – that Nigel Curry had produced for the Food Partnership, which was a strategy paper.
I read it and was so inspired by what I read: this idea of a holistic system, of food from its source all the way through to food waste and food poverty, and sustainable, green food.
We chatted with Nigel Curry over lunch at the Mint Lane cafe. They had a network meeting coming up – at Alive church where my offices are, so it was really easy for me to go to! – so I booked in, and met Nigel and some of the others who were on the team.
I was listening to Nigel speaking, and I was really inspired – I thought here is someone with a clear vision. I really want to get involved and support this and give it my time, and it is worth Acts’ time to release me, to invest into this.
Also I felt it would create good opportunities for us as an organisation, to see where some gaps are and see where we can collaborate.
Nigel invited me to join the board, and through that we started thinking about specific pieces of work that we could get involved with.
Tell me about your involvement in Lincolnshire Food Partnership’s work
The Emergency Response Group for Covid was designed to bring the different food banks together and create a shared referral system, which we had to do very hastily because of Covid. It was all about replacing the old paper referral system, as obviously people couldn’t access the paper forms because of coronavirus. So we hastily put something together that we could all use immediately, and now we’re developing a proper, robust online system with funding from the City of Lincoln Covid fund, through the Lincolnshire Community Foundation.
Another piece of work has been a task group around creating a Waste Food Supermarket, which has been a vision of Acts’ for some years, and in the food partnership we found people who had a similar, shared vision for the city. We saw examples of how that could work across the city – we went to visit Feeding Gainsborough, and a Community Shop in Grimsby, and there was a real desire to open a waste food supermarket in Lincoln.
We presented our vision and ideas to some other potential partners in the city, and there was such a desire to develop the idea further. We developed a proper business case for it, to help us to attract funding and investment support.
Our ambition is to open a Waste Food Supermarket in Lincoln, hopefully within the next few months, which would be the next step on from the foodbank. People can sign up as members to use the food supermarket. It will be stocked with waste food donations, they choose a fee to pay – £5 or £10 – and they pick items up to the value of their membership fee. It’s cheaper than doing a shop at a supermarket but there’s a bit more dignity than handouts from a food bank, because you’re choosing items.
Another perk to being a member of the supermarket is having access to all the support programs, like how to do a budget, how to cook on a budget, life skills, and things that deal with some of the root causes of poverty.
At Acts, we have a programme called the Restore programme, which involves a triage needs assessment – you create a personal plan based on circumstances and needs. You can then take part in different modules:
- Life skills – goal setting, self esteem, personal hygiene, getting routine into your life;
- Money management – that’s the Christians Against Poverty (CAP) money course;
- CAP Job club with employability skills, CV writing, interview techniques;
- ESOL courses – English for speakers of other languages.
So there is a whole range of things. We also find people volunteering opportunities and work placements to practice employability skills – so it’s a whole work program.
Your passion is all about supporting people out of poverty; compassion for people. How do you see the connections with the bigger food system?
The way I see it, we want to inspire local producers of food, whether that’s farmers, agricultural companies, through to food producers, manufacturers, distributors of food, retailers – the whole food system. Saying: “When there is opportunity within what you are producing, donate a portion of that to those in need. Or if you have surplus or waste stock, that can be given.”
Effectively what that’s doing is, firstly, any food waste in the county is being used to solve the problem of food poverty. And also, a lot of these companies want to do something – they want to be able to contribute.
There’s a biblical principle of gleaning. There’s a story in the bible of a woman called Ruth, who was from a very poor family. She would go out at the end of the harvest, at the end of the day, she would go out to the field to see what was left and pick up the scraps. One of the farm owners called Boaz saw this and had pity on her and told the farmers to leave the produce on the borders of the field, so those who were in need could come and glean, as a way of giving.
That principle of gleaning: saying to people who produce food, “think about what you can also give for the benefit of those who are in need.” I guess today we call that social responsibility or good business, this is the kind of terminology. But it’s the basic principle of: if I’m producing something, let’s also remember those who are without, and do what we can to make a difference with the things that we have in our hand.
One of the threads at the Northern Real Farming Conference, which is taking place as we speak, is the problem that sustainably produced food, often organic or higher welfare, can be expensive. Farmers who want to do what’s right for the sustainability of the land – the production of genuinely good food instead of cheap, damaging food – ask how to make sure that everybody can benefit from it.
From the foodbank’s perspective, we don’t want to see food wasted. If food is being produced, we’re not going to argue and say, “that food was produced in a way that isn’t the greenest or most sustainable, so we don’t want it!” – that would just create further problems and more waste. It would be better to take that and put it to good use.
The question of trying to create a sustainable system is a much bigger question. At the receiving end, the foodbank is trying to do the right thing with waste and goodwill, and the other end of it is trying to work with, or appeal to, decision makers – trying to find that right balance between the livelihoods of farmers and a sustainable system.
A personal example I can share: my brother in law is a farmer outside Lincoln, who was explaining to me that the practice of dressing rapeseed was banned, because it was felt they might be harmful to insects. But what was seen as a good decision, to protect bees – which we all get behind – led to a failed harvest. That didn’t just affect the farmers. Something like rapeseed oil, we previously over-produced and it was profitable for the UK. But then we found ourselves in the situation where we underproduced rapeseed oil and had to import it. The crazing thing is, while we’re banned from using coated seeds ourselves, we are allowed to import rapeseed that has been produced in that very same way. It’s hypocrisy. It really damages our farmers and exports the problem rather than dealing with it at home. We need to find ways that we can incentivise a really clever solution to the problem rather than having a blanket ban.
The whole conversation is a really wide conversation, it’s not as blase as “farmers’ practices are bad.” You’ve got to work with everyone in the whole chain to find sustainable solutions; how do we solve problems of food waste?
So maybe there are two groups that are working with the same heart and purpose – to work in the interests of humanity, and people’s wellbeing, and the betterment of the world – and can end up on opposite sides with the system in the middle. How do they meet and support each other?
I think that’s why it’s so important that these conversations are able to happen and the space is made to have these conversations: How do we solve food waste and food poverty? How do we solve farming practices that protect the environment and that meet the needs of the people, a growing population, growing demand? How do we educate people on the type of foods to eat and buy that might change the kind of demand. It’s a very big conversation that shouldn’t be shied away from.
My hope is that there will be other subgroups led by others with passions in these areas, within the Food Partnership, and find ways to give a voice to people who don’t feel they are being heard, and facilitate some good conversations that might lead to some breakthroughs.
Obviously tinned vegetables contain nutrients, but would it help for people to grow a certain amount of their own food – for example growing soft fruit, which doesn’t take up much space and would create a source of food that would be expensive in the shops?
I have a small plot in my garden where I grow vegetables. When it comes to harvesting, it’s fun and exciting and satisfying. The produce that I grew will feed me, in part, for just two or three weeks in the year. It doesn’t solve your whole year round problem if you’re facing food poverty. What it does is it helps you connect with and understand food, where it comes from, the value of it, the work that goes into producing it.
There are so many allotments around the city, and people who produce things, and there is tremendous waste in that. One year I produced so many beetroots, I couldn’t eat them all. I could even give them away! And they rotted. Same with pumpkins. But if we’ve got a food supermarket, we could say: “you’ve produced stuff on your allotment, bring it down to Mint Lane cafe where they can turn it into meals.”
It creates that situation where everyone can do their little part.
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