Where are we going to find the key workers to ‘Feed The Nation’ this summer?
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5 Min read | By James Fellowes

Where are we going to find the key workers to ‘Feed The Nation’ this summer?

To date, Britain’s fight against Covid-19 has largely been fought on two fronts: ‘The Health of The Nation’ and ‘The Wealth of The Nation’. But now there’s a third front and its looming fast – the challenge to ‘Feed The Nation’.

The stark reality is that up to 90,000 seasonal workers are required to pick the British harvest. Over the last few years, over 95% of these key workers and labourers have been sourced from abroad, but despite this enormous influx, labour shortages have sky-rocketed recently. Now, due to a less welcome political landscape and C-19, this crucial external labour supply has effectively been cut off.

A chronic lack of frontline food key workers poses the very real prospect of a critical shortage of fresh produce for the British consumer this summer. Indeed, entire industries – namely food & drink – and by implication, hospitality is massively dependent on the harvest. After all, there’s not a lot of Ribena without juicy blackcurrants, BLT’s are well…just B’s without L&T. Oh and you can forget about that perfectly hopped foaming IPA or refreshing cider, without the likes of Kent’s world-renowned hops or prime British apples.

In his excellent book, “Feeding Britain”, Tim Lang highlights that that Food is perhaps surprisingly the nation’s largest employer. In addition, our globally revered Food and Drinks sector is the UK’s biggest manufacturing sector – far bigger than cars – and at a time of deep economic turmoil,according to Defra, the UK food chain generates over £125bn annually to the British economy.

The media has finally woken up to this pending crisis and over the last few weeks has been awash with shrill stories about the looming problem. However, apart from a few planeloads of Romanians, so far there are precious few actual supply solutions forthcoming. To compound matters, only a tiny fraction of the initial tsunami of ‘local’ applicants, took up an actual job. With borders closed and mother nature’s clock ticking, the question is stark. How on are earth are we going to find the key workers to help Feed The Nation this summer?

Fortunately, sourcing a supply of new – often hidden or marginalised – talent pools is at the very DNA of Bridge of Hope, part of the Resume Foundation, a pioneering charity for ‘inclusive employment’.

The Bridge of Hope is the missing link between outstanding charities with job-ready clients and progressive employers with jobs to fill. These inclusive employees (previously excluded workforces) include, but are not limited to – veterans, care leavers, homeless, BAME, neurodiverse and disabled, LGBT+, former addicts, ex-offenders and refugees.

Co-founded by lifelong friends from Newmarket – George Freeman MP, and James Fellowes, who together wanted to turn their own traumatic personal life experiences into a catalyst for good. In March 2020, the Bridge of Hope and its partner network had successfully completed its first pilot year in the British racing industry, placing a number of incredibly resilient young people into work at top racing yards and racecourses. Then C-19 happened and the lights went off.

Inclusive employees (‘hidden talent’) are our core talent pool, referred by our rapidly growing network of over 50 wonderful charities and social enterprises. These superb referral partners have all committed to handling the duty of care for their clients throughout the process and for the duration of any seasonal role. There by ensuring proper safeguarding for the candidate and mitigating any potential employer concerns. Research from the CIPD demonstrates that inclusive employees work harder, stay longer and are indeed excellent for your company’s reputation. Just ask the extraordinary Timpson organisation.

The Bridge of Hope will also look to redeploy talent pools including shuttered industries – such as horseracing, hospitality and leisure – as well as tapping the extensive student and newly retired talent pools. Indeed, anyone who is keen to roll their sleeves up to play their part as a vital frontline key worker.

To simplify and streamline the ‘demand’ side, the Bridge of Hope has partnered with Feed The Nation. An emergency collaboration of the 3 major ethical labour suppliers in agriculture: Concordia, Hops and Fruitful. Together they cover > 95% of the indirect labour market. Feed The Nation now offers a streamlined process & video interview, along with a guarantee of benefits and accommodation. Crucially they see inclusive employees and redeployed racing staff as ideal candidates; after all, they arrive at the farm with baked-in tenacity and proven resilience.

Will unearthing these new talent pools fix the pending crisis? Absolutely NOT. However, can such an approach to source highly resilient frontline key workers make a dent in the problem? Unquestionably. Just how big an actual dent – depends largely on the support received to help make this ambition possible.

This is a new – and completely unbudgeted – C-19 emergency initiative from the Bridge of Hope. Its aim is to urgently unearth frontline key workers to help avert a national food crisis. The goal is to raise sufficient funds to develop a custom app and digital jobs board, build out a regional ‘beacon’ network and implement a tailored social marketing campaign to encourage all stakeholders to help Feed The Nation.


James Fellowes

James Fellowes is the Founder of Bridge of Hope, a jobs portal dedicated to bridging the gap between progressive employers and a fresh pool of talent. James is a ‘corporate refugee’ - formerly a senior international executive at Diageo, Bass and Omnicom – after losing (almost) everything due to a combination of bad luck, bad people and undiagnosed bipolar disorder. He is now on a personal mission to make all employment inclusive.

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