Local Heroes is our series where we big up the people, small businesses and neighbourhood spots that make London great, and now it’s the turn of FoodCycle, a charity that turns surplus food into nutritious meals for low-income families, those affected by homelessness, and those who can’t afford to buy food, tackling food poverty, food waste and social isolation all at the same time. It was founded in 2009 and “since that first pot of nutritious vegetarian food over 10 years ago, we have rescued over 900 tonnes of surplus food, the equivalent of over 2.1 million meals,” says FoodCycle CEO Mary McGrath.

In ‘normal’ times, FoodCycle runs projects across the country where volunteers collect surplus food, cook it and then sit down with the guests to eat, but the pandemic forced operations to change. “Due to the coronavirus outbreak and government guidelines on social distancing, the first part of 2020 was spent quickly adapting to delivering food parcels and ultimately a move to providing our current Cook and Collect takeaway service which gives our guests access to hot and nutritious vegetarian meals every week,” says Mary. “To help combat what we see as a growing problem of social isolation and loneliness made worse by this pandemic, we also launched our Check-in and Chat service in April 2020, where our fantastic volunteers call guests for a weekly natter.”

Although navigating the pandemic was a challenge for the business for Mary it was also a rewarding experience, “I am immensely proud of the FoodCycle team on how brilliantly they adapted to our Cook & Collect service. Within a few months of the first lockdown, we were back providing food parcels and meals to vulnerable guests in communities across the country, improving nutrition, reducing hunger and food waste. I am constantly amazed and awed by the dedication of those around me – from our Regional Managers to our incredible volunteers.”

Now that we’re coming out of the other side of lockdown, Mary is looking forward to bringing the community meals back as soon as it’s safe to do them. Bringing people together around a healthy meal and creating opportunities to talk, exchange and build lasting relationships will be more important than ever as we come out of this pandemic,” she says. “We also have some exciting plans for new projects across the country getting into areas and regions where we can have a wider impact. We ended 2020 with some incredible fundraising partnerships including Just Eat and a live cooking session with award-winning chef and FoodCycle Ambassador Ben Tish – and there’s plenty of fun stuff in the pipeline for the next 12 months.”

Food waste and food poverty are issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic, so FoodCycle’s work will be key going forward. Donating money to and volunteering with the charity are great ways to get involved in tackling the problems, but if you have any individual food donations to make then Mary points to organisations like Plan ZheroesThe Trussell Trust and Olio. Mary also shouting out The Old Vic after working with them “as their charity partner for A Christmas Carol, which was a thrilling experience. We were bowled over by the generosity of their audience and Director Jack Thorne who matched the total raised.”