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University College Hospital staff © Lisa Anneke

Free meals for NHS staff

Back in 2006, two students became close friends at Jesus College. Fourteen years on, they worked together to deliver over 300,000 free meals to NHS staff working long shifts during lockdown.

On his first day at Jesus College, Alick Varma (MPhil in Innovation, Strategy and Organisation) met fellow postgraduate Andrew Muir Wood (PhD in Research Design) at the College’s entrance gates. They became great friends, meeting up all over the world after graduation, and were even flatmates for a while. They eventually started doing some work together – Alick built digital products and Andrew researched what people wanted from them.

Shortly before the country went into lockdown, Alick was struck by what COVID-19 was doing to frontline NHS staff. Working shifts up to 14-hours long – with no access to food after 5pm and PPE restrictions making it almost impossible to find a meal outside hospital walls – NHS staff had a problem.

Alick reached out to Andrew with an idea: to get hot meals to staff at the end of their long shifts as a way of boosting their morale, showing appreciation for them, and nourishing them. Alick wanted this to be done using donations, so the public could choose to contribute, with all meals coming from local, independent and vulnerable businesses so they received an economic lifeline.

From this idea grew something bigger than they could ever have imagined. On 21 March 2020 Meals for the NHS was launched. In all, 100 volunteers distributed 303,767 meals, feeding around 5,000 NHS frontline workers a night. They covered 146 hospitals across the UK in 101 days. The food was provided by 223 small food providers; to many of these Meals for the NHS represented 50% of their sales during lockdown.

All this was done thanks to the generosity of nearly 18,000 donors, who between them donated over £1.8 million.

Towards the end of June, hospitals started to reduce their orders for meals as COVID-19 cases subsided and the final meals were delivered to NHS staff on 30 June.

Alick said, “We are so proud of what we’ve collectively achieved and we want to thank everyone wholeheartedly for your support. As our journey comes to a close, we hope that you too can look back with pride, knowing you’ve helped make a real difference during an unbelievably difficult time. If this pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that people and communities can do amazing things when they unite together behind a common cause.”

A delighted member of staff at Barnet Hospital
Staff at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery © RJ Avila
Staff from Whittington Hospital

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