The Journey of Resurrected Bites | Interview with Founder Michelle Hayes
As the 29th September marks International Day of Awareness of Food Loss and Waste 2022, we are highlighting the work of Resurrected Bites, a community organisation that operates in Harrogate and Knaresborough that is dedicated to cutting food waste and at the same time addressing food poverty, environmental and social needs.
It operates cafes and grocery stores in Harrogate, Knaresborough and the wider region that offer good fresh food at a fraction of the price while at the same time addressing the environmental issue of food waste being thrown into landfill.
Resurrected Bites, which is a Community Interest Company rather than a charity, was set up in 2018 by Michelle Hayes, who originally worked as an academic. “I used to be a research scientist,” she says, “then I was a project manager in clinical trials and more latterly I was working for my local church doing outreach and that’s when I started Resurrected Bites.”
Michelle had previous experience of working within a food support organisation before setting up Resurrected Bites. “Prior to working at the church I’d helped set up Harrogate Food Bank – and we fed 1,400 people in the first year, in 2012,” she says. It was through this experience that Michelle became aware of the fact that there are many people struggling with food poverty in Harrogate and the surrounding district.
“I had performed an audit of perceived unmet needs in Harrogate in 2013 and the key thing that came out of it was loneliness and isolation but also issues around people struggling financially,” she says. “Obviously, Harrogate is perceived as a very wealthy area but I wanted to get across the fact that there’s a real need in Harrogate, it’s just that a lot of people don’t see it.”
According to Resurrected Bites, in the Harrogate area alone, one in five children are living in poverty – that is in excess of 5,700 children who are growing up in a household that may not be able to afford enough to eat.
In addition, the environmental aspect also played a role in pushing Michelle to set up Resurrected Bites and she was aware of the amount of good food being thrown away, producing a large volume of greenhouse gases. “Food waste is obviously a massive environmental issue, the production of methane rotting in landfill for instance,” she says.
According to a report by the EPA, methane is 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide within the atmosphere. According to The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, if food waste was regarded as a country, it would be the third highest producer of GHGs after the US and China. One third of GHG emissions globally come from agriculture.
"In addition,” Michelle says, “it’s also a moral issue, the fact that people are going hungry but we’re throwing food away.”
The environmental element is also important because, as Michelle says, it moves the service her organisation provides away from being simply an organisation for those needing a hand-out. “I felt that something like Resurrected Bites could fill several needs. Firstly, by addressing food waste in a way that means people using our service don’t feel they’re just using a charity but are actually supporting a good environmental cause. Secondly, we run on a ‘pay as you feel basis’, i.e. you pay what you feel the food is worth,” she adds.
Alongside that, the cafes provide support for those who may be socially isolated for one reason or another. “From the loneliness and isolation perspective it means that people who wouldn’t normally be able to go out for a meal can come into the cafes – there are people around to talk to them, we encourage people to sit and share tables and socialise, people come in week after week and meet up to share experiences and not feel alone – it’s really done what I hoped it would,” Michelle says.
There are a range of ages and demographics who use the cafes and it can become something of a social lifeline for some, as Michelle recalls: “We used to have a couple who came in every week, the husband was a carer and the wife had had cancer for 10 years and it was their ‘date lunch’ – their one trip out a week to break the monotony of life, and that could apply to a lot of people who are in that economic situation, certainly now.”
Both Resurrected Bites cafes also have a grocery shop so people can, for a small amount, take food and household goods away.
“It’s that realisation that so many people are just one pay packet away from food poverty. That’s why I wanted to do it in a different way from a food bank. In the groceries, we offer, for £3, a range of basic fresh food and other produce that’s worth around £50-£60, and multiples of that small cost for bigger families,” she says.
When the Covid pandemic broke out, it was another eye-opener for Michelle as to the scale of food poverty. “When the pandemic hit, we closed the cafes and went to a free food delivery service,” she says. “It wasn’t just food, it was basically anything you could get from a supermarket, to give people dignity. My son, who is in computer programming, built us an online shopping platform so people could go online, select what they wanted and we’d deliver it for them for free.
“During that time I realised the scale of food poverty in our district. I spoke to one lady who’d had to resort to eating cat food because she had no food left.”
That realisation was further cemented after the cafes reopened. “There was one guy who worked in IT who used to come in in his suit on a regular basis saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m back, I just can’t get any work,’” Michelle recalls.
Again, it’s the fact that it’s not just a handout that is important. “So many people have said to me they’d never use a food bank so the fact that they’re paying a small amount gives them that dignity,” Michelle says. “It’s just like a shop, so they just come in and choose what they want, we’re very focused on making sure that they get fresh food. We have one in Knaresborough and one in Harrogate in New Park School, which has the highest number of children on free school meals in the area. But the service is for everyone who needs it in the area and beyond.”
Economic, Supply and Financial Pressures
However, the deteriorating economic climate in this country is becoming a major concern for Michelle and for the 150 people who make up the organisation – all of whom, except Michelle and four others, are volunteers. “It’s a nightmare at the moment,” she says, regarding the economic situation.
“When I started I was hoping that eventually I wouldn’t have to run a food waste cafe because there wouldn’t be any food waste or poverty but I’m now reversing that position because so many people depend on us,” says Michelle. “It’s getting quite worrying the amount needed, even though we collect from supermarkets and shops in the early morning and at the end of the day.”
The supermarkets in the area have been supportive of Resurrected Bites but, Michelle says, securing enough food is becoming more of a problem. “Supplies have been dropping over this year through supply chain issues and the war in Ukraine,” she says. In addition, “More supermarkets are using ‘Too Good to Go’ – an app where stores can offer produce at the end of the day for a very reduced price so people can just go and pick them up, so that shrinks the amount available for us.”
It’s not only Resurrected Bites that is feeling the pinch regarding supplies. “We get a huge amount of food from FareShare delivered to us,” says Michelle.
FareShare is a national charitable network which aims to relieve food poverty and cut food waste in the UK, and which has been running since 1994.
“FareShare intercepts food at the manufacturing level – if anything has less than a week left on its ‘use by’ date, it generally doesn’t go to a supermarket, it used to go to landfill,” says Michelle. “Now it goes to groups like FareShare who give it to groups like us and we distribute it. That’s a main source of our food coming in – but they’re struggling with food supplies as well. So I don’t know at the moment what we’re going to do to meet demand. We may have to reduce the amount we offer per person in the groceries, so we can make it go further.”
Another growing pressure is financial, Michelle says. "We’re definitely not covering our costs, mainly due to economic pressures on a societal level. We do a lot of fundraising, though, we’ve had one each weekend through this month. We've got about £8,500 a month we need to cover, we have four staff members plus all the running costs of picking up the food, the bills etc. And we’re not covering that.
“The plan is to just to keep fundraising and getting people to support us on a regular basis. To know that we’ve got enough income would be great,” she says.
The Holistic Approach
Resurrected Bites offers other services alongside food and produce such as the Work Club, where people can come in and be advised and helped on issues such as job seeking.
“It’s not just about food,” says Michelle, “it’s a holistic approach – skills for work, budgeting and so on, CV’s, interview techniques, that sort of thing.”
Although fewer people than anticipated utilise the service, one group of new arrivals have been keen to get involved. “It’s not as high an uptake as we’d hoped,” she says, “but a lot of Ukrainian refugees who’ve come across are very keen to get into work. We’ve been supporting them across the board regardless of whether they are ‘members’ of the grocery [the term for those using that service] or not. The challenge for them is English, a lot of them have had high-powered careers and have come over here but because their English is not as good as it needs to be for that level of work here it’s very difficult for them. We have help from people, work coaches etc, who can help them with support such as writing CVs and so forth,” Michelle says.
Uncertain Road Ahead
As Michelle says, Resurrected Bites is providing help that few people in our region even realise is needed. There are thousands of people trapped in food poverty and by making sure as much good food as possible is directed away from landfill, that issue can be addressed alongside the environmental issue.
“I’d love to see the groceries covering their own costs but, to be honest, I just wish there wasn’t a need for them – that’s the ultimate goal,” says Michelle. “People should either get paid enough or if they need benefits due to health issues, that it’s enough to enable them so they can just go to a supermarket like everyone else can.”