Gen citizen: teens inspire a million foodbank gifts | Izzy Clarkson & Jess Pepperell | TEDxExeter

Gen citizen: teens inspire a million foodbank gifts | Izzy Clarkson & Jess Pepperell | TEDxExeter

Translator: Ellen Maloney
Reviewer: Peter van de Ven Izzy: Have you ever looked back
at the end of a year and thought, “What did I do? What did I really achieve?
What difference did I make?” That was me on New Years Eve 2017, looking back on the year
that had just finished. I knew I wanted this
coming year to be different. Fast forward to June 2018, and I’d looked at lots of ways
of making the year count. I’d decided on NCS,
the National Citizen Service, and their four-week program
during the summer holidays. Jess: I’d heard about NCS
from friends at school. I’d be spending two weeks away from home and then back working on a local project. I wanted to do it
to meet new people my age and to try and build up my confidence. I was excited but also pretty terrified. I: Me too. I can still remember what it felt like,
that moment when we set off. The coach pulled away,
leaving my family behind, and Wales, three hours in the distance. I didn’t know anybody, and at times,
I had to remind myself why I was there. It helped me to think
of a quote my mum once told me: “Life begins at the end
of your comfort zone.” J: I was certainly at the end of mine. It would have been so much easier
just to go home, but I chose to stay. I told myself I would take it
one challenge at a time. And that first challenge
when we arrived in Wales was working together to put up our tents. And I learned that tents
have a lot of poles – (Laughter) and that working with my group was great. I: That night after eating
our jacket potatoes, we all sat in those tents talking about
why we were there and what we hoped to do. Everyone’s reasons were different, but it felt like we were all
in this together, all 13 of us. I felt lucky to be a part of this group. J: And in that first week, our group helpd me get through and around and over a lot of obstacles. We had to scramble over rocks,
go canyoning and caving – in a wetsuit, in a heatwave. I: It was the caving
that really got to me. I remember thinking,
“There’s no way that I can do this.” And then, “Well Izzy, you just did.” One thing became clear to me. When it’s a new bit of life,
you pay attention more. You’re fully immersed,
you’re there, totally focused. And that felt powerful. J: We’d spent the last two weeks
challenging ourselves, physically and mentally. And not just with the outdoor activities, but with all kinds of workshops
to help build up our skills. Next up was our social action project. This was our chance to make
a difference to our local area. But how exactly were we going to do this? I: Our group decided early on
that we wanted to raise awareness, not just money. We wanted to work with a charity
that was having a really positive impact in our local area, and there were lots to choose from, but it was hard to know where to start. We did a lot of research
and made a lot of phone calls. We got a lot of “no’s”. J: I’m not going to make out like
the rejection and the effort was easy, but neither was climbing up massive rocks. For some of our ideas,
we were told that we were “too young”, you had to be over 18. And for others, there just simply
wasn’t enough time to make it work. We had just one week to design our project
and the clock was ticking big time. I: I, for one, was feeling
the pressure. We all were. I’d signed up to NCS
to make this year count, and I could see just how
committed our group was. We all had different skills
and ideas to contribute, and now we knew exactly where
we wanted to focus our efforts. We wanted to focus on our local foodbank. They’d helped the family
of one of our group. Now, it wasn’t easy
for her to tell us about this. And the fact that she did showed
how much trust we’d built between us. The more she told us about it,
the more our whole group was certain: this was what we wanted to do. And we found that passion
builds on passion. J: So, it’s fair to say
that we gave it our all. And on the final day of that week,
we got our first “yes”. The manager of our local foodbank agreed that our whole group
could go and visit. And on the group visit,
what I saw shocked me. It was small, more like
a shed than a warehouse. Half of us worked with the sorters, to check through the food
that had been donated. So much of it was out of date
or was already opened. All of that had to be thrown away. The other half of us worked
with a computer tracking system. There was barely enough food to cover their client’s needs
for the next two weeks. And it wasn’t just the amount
that was the issue; it was the lack of variety. I: It made me really angry. We live in the fifth
biggest economy in the world, and this foodbank
is feeding local children. It’s being used by young people my age, and by nurses and veterans
who can’t afford the cost of living. I learned so much. Here in the south west, over 120,000 emergency food items
were distributed in 2018 alone. And according to the Trussel Trust,
that need is growing. J: We wish there was no need
for food banks in the first place. But as we’d seen
from our friend on our team, this need is all too real. So our group had to think,
“What difference could we make right now?” We designed a survey
and we took it to the streets. We asked people like you and like me if they had ever donated
to a foodbank before. And if so, what? I: What people told us is that if
they knew what people really needed, then they’d be more likely to give. This made total sense. But what was actually happening
on the ground in supermarkets? How were donations being encouraged? We went to see for ourselves. And what we found is that even when
supermarkets had food donation bins, they were placed by the exit,
on the way out of the store, so you’d only see them
once you’d already done your shopping. And there was nothing indicating
what items were most needed. J: We could see
that this system was broken, and we were determined to fix it. We split the tasks up,
and we worked like mad. Some of our group designed the labels that could be put directly
onto supermarket shelves, telling customers exactly what was needed
by their local foodbank that week. For Exeter foodbank, this included items such as tea,
fruit juice, and sanitary products. A simple label can let people
know this at a glance and while they were still
doing their shopping. I: Others in our group,
including me and Jess, tried pitching our labelling idea
to local supermarket chains. We got plenty of “no’s”, but we kept going and going. And then we tried Sainsbury’s
in Exeter city centre. The manager thought about it. He said it was a brilliant idea. It was a “yes” – he wanted
to start trialling them straight away. So that’s what we did. We got a list from our local foodbank about what items
were most needed that week, and we placed our labels
alongside those items on the shelves so noone could be in any doubt. Here’s what happened in that store. In just two weeks, food donations tripled. J: Our group was so so happy that we’d
been able to work together to do this, to help our local area
in such a short amount of time. We were at the end
of our four weeks of NCS together, but as it turned out,
we were far from done. I: We found this out six weeks later
at the final NCS celebration event. Our group was sat with some of our parents
and all the other groups in a big hall watching the announcements onstage. We got to hear about
the other brilliant projects; what they had done,
and how much they had raised. There was over 100 people,
but it felt like a big family. I was so proud of what our group and everyone in that room had achieved. I was so not expecting what happened next. J: Me neither! It got to our group’s turn. Our NCS coordinator Danny
was up on the stage. He said, “This group
doesn’t know this yet, but I’ve got some really exciting news.” I: We had no idea
what he was going to say. I was looking up at the stage,
and swivelling around in my seat, trying to see the rest of our group. J: And then he said that our group
had been invited to London to meet with a team at Sainsbury’s HQ. There was a chance that our label idea
could be rolled out nationally, in all of their supermarkets. J: It almost didn’t feel real. I: Not until I found myself,
a month later, sat around a board table in London
with the rest of our group. The Sainsbury’s team
were asking us for our feedback on labels they were considering
using in their stores, both in the run-up to Christmas
and as a permanent initiative. It got even more real
in the following weeks when we were asked by Sainsbury’s
to film videos for a November launch. Less than six months after
we’d come up with our labelling idea, Sainsbury’s had decided they were
going to roll it out nationally. They were going to put labels
directly on their supermarket shelves, showing customers the 15 items
most needed by their local foodbanks. J: In fact, they thought
it was such a fantastic idea that they teamed up with Argos, a toy retailer, to launch
a joint campaign. Their aim was to help
brighten a million Christmases through one million
food and toy donations. I: It was brilliant, seeing the “Help
brighten a million Christmases” campaign spread throughout so many stores. I visited my local Sainsbury’s so I could see the labels
on the shelves with my own eyes. J: Between November and December, food donations to our local foodbank
had almost quadrupled. I: And as we headed towards
Christmas, one thing I knew was that this was going to be
an incredible year to look back on. J: And as we started 2019, we got the news
of the national impact of this campaign. In the lead up to Christmas, over
one million food donations were donated. I: One million. And that’s not all. We’re still learning about the ripples
spreading out from our initial idea. Currently there is an online petition
with over 100,000 signatures calling on the CEOs of seven
different supermarket chains to roll out our label idea. J: It was set up by
a volunteer from a foodbank who knows just how much
donations really matter and the real difference
that our label idea could make. You can support it here. I: This is what happened
when one group of 16- and 17-year-olds set out to make a difference. J: This is one project
and one group of 13. I: Can you imagine the positive impact
made by us NCS participants altogether? To date, it’s a massive 12 million hours
spent working on social action projects all across the UK. J: Young people aren’t waiting
to make a difference, we’re making a difference now. Through NCS and other amazing
organisations all around the world, we’re volunteering
and we’re taking action. We’re making sure that our time counts. I: We’d like to leave you with
this thought from Mark Richardson, the manager of our local foodbank. I: We’d love you to bring it to mind
the next time you see something that needs changing around you. I: Sometimes you just need
a new mind on an old problem – J: sometimes the most simple ideas
have the greatest impact. I + J: Thank you. (Applause)


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