Sheffield named one of most promising microenterprises in the UK

Sheffield’s “Real Junk Food Project” which turns surplus food destined for landfill into tasty meals at pay-as-you-feel cafés and runs a market, an educational programme, high end dining events and a fast growing catering operation, was this week named one of the 16 “most promising microenterprises in the UK.”

The firm, a social enterprise, has grown tenfold after working with Sheffield based “responsible finance” provider, Key Fund.

Its lean team “coordinate the efforts of almost 200 volunteers,” according to co-founder Rene Meijer. They feed the same amount of people in a day a foodbank will average a month; “and it is fresh produce,” adds Rene, “it moves away from stigma; everyone is a respected and valued customer.”

In a single month the Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield serves 8,000 meals, intercepting 5 tonnes of food per week (with each tonne of food saving the equivalent of 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide). The Sharehouse Market serves 50 to 100 people per day, 5 days a week.

The project’s exponential growth came after Key Fund provided loan and grant support for a warehouse and administration structure to roll out a programme for schools and to develop routes to employment for volunteers.

“Since we’ve worked with Key Fund our operation has grown by a multiple of ten in the past 12 months” Rene said. “We have gone from a single part-time cafe run 100% by a few dozen volunteers to running 2 full time community hubs, a 5000sq ft warehouse and market, an educational programme, high end dining events and a fast growing catering operation.”

Their future ambition is to work in every school in Sheffield to empower the next generation around food, waste, fairness and value.

This week The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield was named one of 4 finalists for the “Social Enterprise of the Year” award in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, funded by the Citi Foundation.

And Sheffield-based responsible finance provider Key Fund – marking its 15th anniversary of investing this year – has two other client businesses in the running for the 16 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards – and has itself been nominated for an award in recognition of its resilience.

The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards are the annual celebration of Britain’s microentrepreneurs that have accessed “responsible” business finance, and the four social enterprise of the year award finalists are in the running for a £7,500 cash prize and national and international recognition in this year’s awards.

Judges praised the social enterprises’ financial performance, their sustainability and their impact: all are directly making a difference to the lives of the people they work with.

Lee Mannion, social enterprise correspondent for Thomson Reuters Foundation, is one of this year’s judges. He said,

“Whether it’s the small businesses and social enterprises that continue despite the odds in difficult economic circumstances, the forward thinking lenders who seek to support them or the visionary leaders who see past the bottom line to the communities they exist in, it’s always difficult to pick out champions. However, it was pure privilege to be asked to pick from a plethora of uplifting people and companies.”

Responsible Finance providers including Key Fund are a “crucial part of the UK’s financial sector and the leading financial institutions offering affordable finance to many small and micro enterprises,” according to Jennifer Tankard, chief executive of Responsible Finance, who added that “the advice, mentoring, business support and skills development that responsible finance providers offer to their client businesses and social enterprises is just as important as the finance they provide.”

Finance from Key Fund has created or safeguarded 2,722 jobs, and created or sustained 2,439 businesses over the past 15 years, with the majority of investments going to organisations based in the most deprived areas.

“We reach people and transform lives and communities that most other finance providers can’t; some of the hardest to reach in society,” said operations manager Jane Austin. “Key Fund is, like our clients, a social enterprise. We are constantly inspired by their work and will, demonstrated day-in, day-out, to improve the communities they live and work in. It’s not just about the money, it’s about providing the right kind of support to have the best possible chance of success. Our relationship banking model includes educating, advising and training, pre and post investment. We’re in for the long haul.”

Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, said, “Every year the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards celebrate the innovation and talent of UK microentrepreneurs and responsible finance providers. The quality of applications was very high this year, and the finalists represent some of the best emerging microentrepreneurs in the UK who have enriched their local economies and communities.

“It is also important to recognise the integral work of responsible finance providers such as Key Fund. Our responsible finance finalists have gone above and beyond to support their clients and communities and we are proud to support them through the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.”

“Every day I’m going to make a difference to someone’s life,” added Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield co-founder Rene Meijer. “It doesn’t get more inspirational then that.

The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield and Key Fund must now wait until 20 March 2018 when the winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on in Glasgow.