A Friday Chat With Simon Boyle, Founder of the Beyond Food Foundation17 December 2021
For a very special Friday chat, we sit down with social entrepreneur and chef Simon Boyle, the founder of the Beyond Food Foundation – an organisation which helps people struggling or on the brink of homelessness to get back on their feet through the hospitality industry. Searcys are delighted to have a long-term partnership with Beyond Food both through Christmas fundraising and apprenticeships.
Hi Simon! Tell us about the inspiration for setting up Beyond Food?
There were three things. The first was that I’d always wanted to do something to be a better person and help others. Second was the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami. I was working for Unilever at the time, working across the world in many different roles. I remember watching the news seeing all the people who’d died, and I just couldn’t bear it. I flew out to Sri Lanka the next day to set up a relief camp, and I was there a long time. I really learned what it was to be displaced, and how it can happen to people just like that. Then I came back to London to see what I can do about it here. Finally, it’s the people in my life. My wife was very ill and passed away, but we’d set up Beyond Food together and I really felt I needed to continue it to do her proud. I’ve got my daughter, I’m about to get married again – and everyone in my life really believes in what we really do and believe in.
Now what motivates me is the fact that homelessness is up 47% since start of pandemic, and they recon it will be up 95% in next 5 years. It’s just horrific. Imagine how many people there were in the hospitality industry who were not paid properly or at all during the pandemic.
What have been Beyond Food’s biggest successes this year?
Getting through the year was a pretty good success! We used the third lockdown in January 2020 to really look at ourselves and improve ourselves as an organisation – our trustees, fundraising, policies, changing our positioning through our website – because during the two prior lockdowns we’d focused much more on our beneficiaries. We reopened Brigade in May, supporting our team and our apprentices through every stage. Beyond Food has impacted over 100 lives this year. We’ve run three ‘Freshlife’ and ‘Get Stuck In’ programmes two ‘Pathfinder’ programmes and one ‘Made Again’ course.
And what’s your focus now?
Now we’re busy working on a new strategy, all about preventing homelessness rather than just dealing with it when it happens. We are also working with like-minded charities such as The Felix Project and Cat Zero to increase our reach and impact. And then leading up to Christmas, we worked hard to make best of the season from both from a hospitality and restaurant point of view, and from charity fundraising.
So with regard to preventing homelessness in the first place, tell us about the Beyond the Classroom programme?
We launched our ‘Beyond the Classroom’ programme to support students aged 15-17, who are likely to leave school without formal qualifications. Often, we’re working with young repeat offenders. It’s for people who are maybe failed by mainstream education, getting lost in the system, things aren’t working out for them and they and this can very easily lead to a life in crime because they can’t see a way out. “Beyond the Classroom” is an amazing project because you can start with very little and do very well. It’s about trying to cater for what young people need when they’re 17 and chucked out of home and going into care system. The idea is that you can teach someone very quickly how to be a barista, and then they learn the rest on the job and it’s a really employable and useful skill that will serve them well. Our aim is to inspire and support young people to be able to think positively about future.
How have things changed for you since Brexit and the Pandemic?
Because of both Brexit and the pandemic it’s kind of the perfect storm, and everyone is so desperate for staff in London. This actually helps our apprentices, because employers were not treating people properly, so a lot of people have left to go and get paid more and be paid better in another industry. It resents charities like Beyond Food a real opportunity, using hospitality to skill people up and get them back on their feet, and actually changing people’s lives. My view is that the hospitality industry should be looking at agencies like ours, as we can feed the industry with people who don’t have much experience but are willing to learn and have that incredible attitude.
How has working with a company like Searcys impacted the work you do at Beyond Food?
Our work with Searcys is two-fold, both helping to fundraise through putting a pound onto everyone’s bill in December, and directly helping through placing our apprentices in jobs. It costs us around £25,000 to see one person right through the programme, and £5000 for the Beyond the Classroom scheme, but it’s not just about that one individual – we’ve calculated that for every one, you’re helping another nine around them, whether it’s their dependents, families, communities etc. What we would really love is for Searcys to give some more young people work experience and long term, meaningful employment thereafter.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about Beyond Food?
Very interesting… it’s probably they think we’re not as professional as they are. We can’t hide behind the fact we’re a charity – our branding, our marketing to our beneficiary audiences keep us accountable and business-like. We want and expect people to trade with us, rather than write us a check. We ask ourselves “what do we bring to the party?” rather than asking for handouts. And one answer to this is teaching people about how easy it is to lose the “thread of life” as I call it – something that can honestly happen to anyone.
And lastly, ahead of Searcys 175th Anniversary next year, what message would you like to give to the team for the future of Searcys?
Well above all, we’re hugely grateful – Searcys are an awesome team and they have always supported Beyond Food. Companies can often support you one day and forget you the next, which is really difficult, but actually it’s that consistent financial support that’s so important long term to make us a sustainable business.