Stockport-born Corin Bell launched her ‘feed bellies not bins’ Real Junk Food Project Manchester in May 2014. The basic premise is to source food that would otherwise have gone to waste from supermarkets, wholesalers and food businesses and turn it into awesome meals which are sold on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis. The aim is to stamp out food waste and campaign for a more sustainable food system whilst supporting some of Manchester’s most vulnerable people
Along with her two chefs, Mary Ellen McTague and Deb Burton, and over a hundred volunteers, the project runs pop-up restaurants and caters to events from any kitchen they can make use of across the city. They recently launched a crowdfunding campaign to raise £20,000 to build a mobile modular kitchen which will be used in their first pay-as-you-feel café and restaurant in Ancoats – where they hope to stay for 6 months – and in their permanent home when they find one.
What got you started in your field of work?
I studied politics at Manchester Met and began working in the charity sector at that time, leading to my role as a project manager in Environmental Strategy at Manchester City Council where we focused on climate change. In 2010 with the introduction of the coalition government, the council lost millions and I took voluntary redundancy and went freelance, something I’ve never regretted. I began working with charity groups and on community projects where my interest in food waste grew, especially from my involvement with the Gleaning Network who go out to farms and harvest crops that would never have made it to market, getting the produce to food banks, community groups and people in need. Their national co-ordinator told me about the Real Junk Food Project that had just been launched in Leeds so I got in touch with them and it all started from there.
Who have been the biggest influences on your work?
Adam Smith who set up the first Real Junk Food Project in Leeds, I have an amazing amount of respect for him. He’s such a good man and always does what is right. There are over a hundred projects across the country now all originating from his initial concept. They aren’t franchises but there are partnership agreements and certain guidelines we all follow to protect the Real Junk Food brand. And my two chefs Mary Ellen McTague and Deb Burton who joined the project in March 2016.
What is your proudest achievement so far?
All this perfectly edible food would have gone to waste if we didn’t do this. Also two main events, catering to Lifeshare on Christmas Day and serving Christmas dinner to 170 homeless people. And in September we catered for the gala fundraiser at Victoria Baths showing people we can produce beautiful meals without compromise.
What does your typical day involve?
Each day is so different. One of us will phone Ocado for instance at 8am to see if they’ve had any returns and then we will go and collect the food at about half nine. We weigh everything and then separate what we can and cannot use. We can’t use ready meals so we deliver these to independent food banks and homeless hostels. If we have an event that day we might be catering from any kitchen so there are the logistics to sort out. Our chefs work with volunteers to prep and serve the food. There’s also all the admin to sort out. We might not finish until after 11pm some days.
And how do you relax on your days off?
Sleep. I don’t really get days off.
What is the best advice you have been given or can give?
Adam Smith said ‘just do what’s right and it will work.’ I thought he was a lunatic but oddly enough he has been right. We’ve stuck to our guns with the pay-as-you-feel model in Manchester as it’s what we felt was right and somehow we are still here.
If things hadn’t worked out, what else could you have seen yourself doing?
I can’t imagine doing anything else. I would just have found another way to make this work.
Tell us one thing about yourself people might be surprised to hear
When I was four I won the Mini Miss Panama contest at the Panama Hotel in Tenerife
Red or Blue?
None of it.
Name your three favourite places in Manchester
GRUB Street food events at the Alphabet Brewery as the atmosphere, the food and the drink are amazing. They’re great food traders. New Smithfield Market because it’s one of our biggest sources of finding waste food. And Chorlton Water Park is beautiful and green.
If you could change one thing about Manchester, what would it be?
Fewer supermarkets and chains and many more independent grocers and shops. And maybe a bit more sunshine would be nice.
And finally, what do you love most about Manchester?
The food and drink scene here is brilliant. I love the great attitude to independent street food, music and beer. Small breweries are thriving which is good to see, and the people running them are really passionate.