Intergenerational and intersectional values are the driving ethos behind LifeAfterHummus, a community benefit society combating food poverty and food waste in central London.
Organisational summary and background to generational dynamics
Founded in the summer of 2016, Lifeafterhummus Community Benefit Society is located in Somers Town, near Kings Cross in London. It runs a food bank providing 325 people across 80 households and 11 hostels with culturally appropriate weekly food parcels, alongside debt and social welfare advice, employment support, and other services. Powering Lifeafterhummus’ work is a vibrant intergenerational community of 50 local volunteers, aged between 13 and 67. The volunteers collect food surplus from 45 local stores every week, and help to sort and redistribute the surplus stock via a food cart accessible by the wider public.
Lifeafterhummus has a distinctly youthful identity; intergenerational and intersectional values are the lifeblood of the organisation. A large part of this ethos can be attributed to the co-founder, Farrah Rainfly, who started Lifeafterhummus in her mid-30s. She had been working in the corporate and hospitality world since she left school at 16. After taking a course on social enterprise for BME women*, Farrah knew she wanted to run cookery classes, saw that they were needed and wanted in the community around her, but did not know how to finance the classes for people who could not afford to pay.
After taking the Olmec course in 2016, when the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act had recently been passed, Farrah’s interest was captured by the idea of community benefit societies as a model for community business. With a £3,000 seed grant from the School for Social Entrepreneurs, she balanced Lifeafterhummus alongside full-time work for a couple of years.
When it comes to including young people, for Farrah it is all about building an intergenerational space. This ethos sits side-by-side with a commitment to being an organisation led by minoritised communities. “Being intergenerational is the best part of the centre. I have 50 volunteers, from 13 year olds who come after school to retired people. It is what connects people to each other, it binds you together.” These intersectional values are not only part of Lifeafterhummus’ identity and legal constitution, but also inform how the organisation works with young volunteers and employees, and commits to trusting everyone and giving them a chance, no matter what their background. They currently have 50 local volunteers aged between 13 and 67 years old, and over half of the people they engage with are from minoritised ethnicities.
Maddy MacKenzie (age 21) started volunteering with Lifeafterhummus in 2020 during the first lockdown. She returned to university after lockdown but came back to continue volunteering after graduating, until being offered a paid role as the centre’s coordinator in August 2021. For her there were two main motivators for getting involved: the environmental need to combat food waste, and the opportunities to engage with people in the community.
The community business ethos which underpins the organisation has helped Maddy’s development. She did not have any other work experience in the field when she joined, and the trust that Farrah has placed in her has been significant. “So many young people can’t get positions of responsibility because of their age. They are babied for years and years, or are treated without respect, like they are stupid. But in community work it’s about values and heart, not having a degree. We are only as strong as our team, so you have to be able to delegate. Farrah gives me a lot of responsibility and freedom. Most of the time this works out, and then
if it doesn’t, we can talk about it. By doing that, it’s made me develop into someone who can take charge, who can lead. I feel like a lot of young people don’t always get that chance.”
Farrah has also taken care to include Maddy, like the other workers and volunteers at Lifeafterhummus, in decision-making processes. Again, being a community
business is foundational to this ethos. “We exist for the community, one member one vote, so everything is co-designed, and we practice listening and learning. There are organisations that listen but don’t know how to implement. We do both. For instance, the pivot to food parcels is because we listened and heard what people needed. Same with our employability work – that arose from hearing about problems, and asking what we can do to help.”
One of the changes which Maddy has helped to bring in since she started is cutting down on packaging, by using gravity bins and refill containers for rice, rather than bagged portions. More recently, she has been exploring a bike scheme with other young women at the centre to enable more girls to have the sense of freedom a bike brings. And she has been helping Farrah prepare to restart the centre’s cookery classes following the pandemic. She is also training up new young volunteers, following Farrah’s example of investing in young people’s abilities and potential.