Being a Change Maker: Living and Working with Gratitude

Fiona Hollis, Head of Communications, City Harvest London

The Being Group’s tagline is Enabling Human Endeavour so, wherever possible, we work with brands that do good, enable change and have an impact.

Since 2014, City Harvest has rescued food that would otherwise go to waste and redistributed it, free of charge, to over 375 charities across London.

Recently, we had the pleasure of working closely with the brand’s Head of Communications on an annual report, and a bond was formed. A mutual understanding of kindness, thoughtfulness and the power of giving back. We knew we had to interview Fiona Hollis for our Being a Change Maker series.

How would you describe yourself?

I’m a really passionate person. I’m very hot and cold, and I either get fully behind something or I don’t. That’s who I am.

Growing up, I was completely obsessed with music. I worked for record labels, an art magazine, PR agencies — it was intense, actually. PR in the 90s was intense. There was a lot of pressure, and absolutely no sense of gratitude. So I stepped aside, and switched to working from home as a content manager and designer.

Then my personal circumstances changed. I went through a bit of a rough patch. It came out of nowhere, and before I knew it, I couldn’t afford food. I had to provide for my kids, and I couldn’t.

I had this desperate feeling in my stomach the whole time. I kept asking myself, “How has this happened? How could it happen to me?”

And then your neighbour told you about a local charity.

She said, “There’s this job going. And there’s this really great lady. Talk to her. You’ll love her.”

At the meeting, I was very frank. I said, “I’m not a fundraiser, but I know PR. I know how to communicate with your donors, how to raise your profile.”

That was four years ago. Last week I was on annual leave and couldn’t wait to get back.

You’re feeling the gratitude again. Work is fulfilling again.

Absolutely. Everyone who works at City Harvest feels it too. That’s not to say we don’t disagree from time to time, because we do. But if we disagree, it’s only because we care.

You know how Costco has those big, huge cakes? Well, sometimes they don’t get collected. Cakes with messages like Happy birthday, Susie or Congratulations on your graduation, Sandra.

Our drivers will see that and think, “I know so-and-so up at the main office who is celebrating such-and-such, or one of their kids is having a party.” They’ll ask for the cake, and wrap it up, and bring it over, and suddenly we’re all in tears.

It’s more than seeing the joy on people’s faces. It’s hope. Especially during lockdown, we brought a lot of hope into people’s homes and lives. They were isolated. They had nothing. But so did I, at one stage.

In fact, a lot of people who work at City Harvest have a similar story to tell. A lot of us experienced food poverty. It’s a unifier. We understand hopelessness and despair, which is why we’re so keen to give back.

What would you say, then, is City Harvest’s main message?

It’s two-fold. The main message — the primary thing we do — is rescuing food in order to rescue people. We contact food companies and we say, “Don’t send it to landfill, we’ll take it for free.” But while we’re doing that, we’re also rescuing the planet. We’re reducing food waste, which is just as important.

I think we’re nimble. We’re nimble and we have a lot of energy. And I think those two things make us quite dynamic for a charity, you know, because we like to get things done. Done, done.

If you could say anything to the person you were four years ago, the person with the desperate feeling in the pit of her stomach, what would it be?

You won’t feel dread anymore. One day, soon, you’ll walk into a meeting with an investment banker and know exactly what to say.

You’ll realise how much you know — how much you’ve always known — and it’ll all work out.

To fundraise on behalf of City Harvest, get in touch with [email protected].

To join the City Harvest team, send a cover letter and CV to [email protected].

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