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I attended a conference on a weekend and I loved every minute of it.

Liam is one of our newer Project Leaders doing fantastic work at FoodCycle Cricklewood. Here he tells us about what he did, what he learned and importantly… what he ate at this year’s conference!

As a fledgling Project Leader I had no idea what to expect when Matt invited me to attend the two day FoodCycle Annual Conference at a legal headquarters. Sounded heavy. And in some ways, it was. After a lectern thumping introduction from our leaders, we found ourselves pacing between boardrooms having serious chats against a stunning city skyline backdrop. Like a UK version of Suits, minus the withering one liners. In casual purple T-shirts.

Yes, we covered some serious topics with loads of pragmatic lessons for our weekly Projects. But with so many personalities from across the UK, including my dinner table buddies (Shout out to the Durham massive!) I think we all managed to keep it light throughout the stuffed timetable.

I could have talked ‘Nourishing our guests’ all weekend. Fascinating stuff. Even though I got slapped down for daring to suggest that pearl barley was a whole grain…

The ‘Maintaining Boundaries’ module seems to become more relevant by the day. It was interesting to discuss the line between friendliness and inappropriateness (especially between genders). Solutions include guiding conversations in the right direction, like a seasoned diplomat. And employing the ultimate special move in physical Boundary Maintenance. The ‘side hug’.

‘Safeguarding’ provided the fewest laughs of the weekend, admittedly. But while FoodCycle is supposed to be fun, there is a serious side to being a charity where thousands of people interact every week. (That’s my shout out to the lawyers who normally enjoy the stunning aerial view of Smithfield market.) Equally, it was important to get some top line First Aid Training – for common and relevant dangers like choking.

Like every well supplied FoodCycle project, the conference provided many great takeaways…

Peterborough’s handy leaflet signposting guests to other support services in the area.

Cambridge’s monthly pop up that sounds more like a mini food festival.

Portsmouth’s ‘Takeovers’ idea, allowing companies to run their kitchen once a month and to see the good FoodCycle does from the inside (and sign up to volunteer, of course).

The ‘Waste’ presentation gave us the big food industry picture (sadly, #wonkyveg is an ugly sticking plaster). And introduced us to the concept of Disco Soup.

LSE inspired me to want to write my own ‘Project Guide’ (thanks guys, I’m still knee deep in industrial oven instruction PDFs).

And we’ll never forget Peter from Finsbury Park’s hacks. Like the ‘Bum Sandwich’, toasted by the seat of his pants (through an extra generous wrapping of cling film).

There was, of course, more conventional catering. A Pret veggie sandwich banquet, Lebanese courtesy of Just Eat, ‘Salad Days’ pastries and posher cuisine to go with our glittering awards ceremony on Saturday night. (Dalston, you’ll have to arm wrestle me for our laminated Rising Star joint certificate.) There were even free bottles of tasty Toast beer, made with leftover bread. Maybe we shouldn’t implore kids to eat their crusts after all….

It was fitting to end the weekend with Sophie’s presentation on data from the last year. A succession of positive stats brought to life in imaginative ways. FoodCyclers may have given up 560 trips to the moon in time, in the process saving 20 hippos of food that was going to waste. However, the standout figure for me was 51%. The percentage of our guests who live alone and look forward to sitting down to share a meal with us each week.

Side hugs all round.

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