After getting lost in the myriad of containers in the Concord Business Centre, I finally find myself amongst a flurry of high-vis vests and bright green vans being loaded with overflowing crates of fresh fruit and vegetables. It was here that I approached Anne Elkin, The Felix Project’s main coordinator. I guessed she was the best point of contact for her commanding manner in the warehouse – also I recognised her face from the very photo on my JustGiving page.
“Oh you’re the Toby who’s running the marathon!” She was pleased to hear. I shirked this off a little, admitting to the fact that I was less than prepared for the upcoming Hackney Half, having struggled pathetically to fully live up to my New Year’s promise of transforming my body into an athletic powerhouse. Nevertheless, this became my identifier to the rest of the volunteers at Felix, who were all very supportive of my ‘heroic’ pursuit.
The regulars at The Felix Project are mostly retired men and women who joined soon after the Evening Standard’s big exposé back in September. One such man, Charles – with whom I spent the morning driving around Hanwell, navigating down poky suburban roads and awkward church driveways – said he spent the first part of his retirement not knowing what to do with himself.
“I still felt guilty playing mid-week golf. Turns out I actually know the Byam-Shaws through their niece, and when I saw them in the paper I thought I’d come here and help out.”
Travelling through London with the volunteer drivers and co-drivers is what makes the whole affair very localised. As it is in London, everyone has their own unique experience of the city’s landmarks – both physical and historical.
“I used to work for BHS in that building.” Remembers Allan, as we sail down the Marylebone road. “That was well before the Philip Green days.” Earlier, The Apprentice’s infamous Bridge Cafe on Westfields Road was pointed out to me as we left the depot.
Pension scandals and TV personalities aside, it was the City’s latest business ventures that got all the delivery guys’ tongues wagging most of the day. Specifically, Deliveroo, Uber, and the burgeoning ‘gig’ economy. “I just feel sorry for the guys”, “you know they earn only £3-something an hour, after tax?” Were some of the comments bandied about. It seemed fitting to have this discussion whilst delivering to refuge centres and food-banks. Perhaps some of the couriers and chauffers we were talking about would be the ones receiving our haul of unwanted supermarket fare.
Back at base, the warehouse team were all smiles as we dropped off more goods and restocked the vans ready for the afternoon teams. I get chatting to Kathy, an American who was one of the Project’s biggest fans. “My son came here when he visited from the States at Christmas, and that’s when the Standard turned up with all the cameras. He’s now on one of the adverts!”
The turn around of unloading vans and filling the empty crates was impressively quick, with deputy coordinator Sophie all but losing her head to ensure a smooth transition. It’s clear that this slick operation has got legs; it’s captured the interest of many supportive wholesalers, as well as a team of dedicated volunteers. But it will take a doubling of effort from everyone to expand – as they intend to – across the rest of London. For now, it’s fun to ride on the first wave of a new, and increasingly vital, service.