A YEAR ago, Nando’s Chickenland opened its 300th store in the affluent Salford Quays. Inside, oversized baskets hang over tables and original South African artwork covers the walls. A state of the art speaker system blasts out Portuguese samba music to over 130 customers crammed onto solid oak tables. It cost over £1million to transform this former office space into the recognizable chicken utopia that has the general public and celebrities alike hooked.

Little over a mile away sits Salford Loaves and Fishes, one of Manchester’s oldest food initiatives. Founded over 25 years ago, they opened a drop in centre in 2007 in the heart of residential Salford and now provide hot meals for around 100 people a day. Attached to the centre is a night shelter that sleeps around 40 people. Demand for facilities like this greatly outstrips the supply that is currently available across Manchester, a city that has seen its homeless population increase by two thirds over the past five years.

“I’d love to be able to say that we’re so popular because the people like our chef Leo’s cooking,” explains Salford Loaves and Fishes trustee Ken Palmer. “In reality, poverty is something that’s becoming more and more common in Salford. We’ve had a few bad years and people are more dependent on this kind of centre than ever before.”

Salford Loaves and Fishes relies heavily on donations from the public and local businesses, including Nando’s chicken restaurant in Salford Quays. To date, there are over 320 Nando’s restaurants in the UK and 90 per cent are part of the ‘No Chuckin’ Our Chicken Scheme’.

The aim is simple, take perfectly good chicken that hasn’t been sold by the time the restaurant closes, freeze it then donate to a local charity of choice. Bob Gordon, who has the apt job title of ‘Nando’s ‘Do The Right Thing Manager’ explains, “We hate throwing food away! The idea actually came from our Patraos (store managers) who wanted a way to minimize food wastage. Our estimate is that we could potentially save up to 350,000 chickens per year, on an estimate of 3 chickens wasted per restaurant per day.” The scheme has proved so successful that it donated over 150,000 meals to charity in 2014.

Luke Broadhead spearheads the initiative at Nando’s Salford Quays restaurant, which was the first in Manchester to donate their leftover food. “When we were opening the restaurant the idea was still pretty new, and not a lot of restaurants were doing it. We discussed it during our business planning and decided that making sure that our waste went to help out people in need was something the entire management team felt was worthwhile,” explains Luke, who still works at the branch.

“Nando’s restaurants have always had history of getting involved with their local communities and giving waste to local charities was a natural extension of that. For me it was about being able to make a difference to people’s lives in the area that I live, and knowing exactly how what we donated was being used.”

Since Salford Loaves and Fishes began receiving donations from Nando’s twelve months ago, the centre has seen a surge in popularity. The sheer volume of food donated by the restaurant means the centre is able to open for an extra day every week. Trustee Ken, along with wife Glynis, visits Nando’s every week to collect any donations. “This is the first time that we’ve been approached by a large company,” explains Ken. “Nandos is probably the biggest help that we have. It’s consistent and sometimes the sheer amount of chicken that’s collected can be over facing. But none of it gets wasted, we get through every last bit that’s donated, slowly but surely.”

The centre does more than just put food on the table for people in need, by trying to help provide people with a route into employment. “We don’t molly coddle people, we just aim to guide them onto the right path,” explains Ken. “We have people with big issues, be that drug addiction, mental health problem or just plain bad luck. It’s not just about the food; we look to enhance people’s whole way of life. We try to give them something that perhaps most people would take for granted, but it works. It shows them there’s more to life than just existing, rather than just scraping by.”

Through classes provided free of charge by the centre where people are helped with creating CV’s and taught employability skills, several former shelter residents have gone on to full time work with Kellogg’s and in retail at the nearby Salford Shopping City.

“We want to move them on, to get them into a position where they’re strong enough and capable enough to get their own place in society and their own lives,” says Ken.

We want them to use Loaves and Fishes as a stepping-stone.

An estimated 216 different people in need visit the drop in centre on a weekly basis.  The donated chicken now forms an integral part of most of the meals provided by the centre, which now opens four days a week.

“We provide breakfast, tea and coffee and a cooked meal. The Nando’s chicken provides us with at least two meals a week. Today we’ve done chicken curry and roast chicken and chips,” explains Ken. “We charge 60p, if you haven’t got 60p you can have it for nothing. We don’t refuse to feed anybody. We’ll ask everyone for money, but just this lunchtime a lad came to me and said he hadn’t a penny. Everyone gets fed, whether they’ve got the money to contribute or not.”

Head Chef at the charity Leo claims to have come up with 99 different ways to serve the donated chicken. “I’ve done all sorts, Cajun chicken, chicken soup, chicken and ham pie, we even used Nando’s chicken for this year’s Christmas dinner. It’s been an incredible success. Since we started collecting the chicken, we’ve been able to cut our food costs by over two thirds, it’s been that important. Meat is the most expensive part of any meal, which is why it’s saved us so much money.”

It certainly is unusual for such a large company to invest time and resources into local initiatives like Salford Loaves and Fishes. But ‘Do The Right Thing Manager’ Bob Gordon, whose job title alone goes some way to showing the company’s alternative approach to goodwill, believes charitable acts are a part of Nando’s ethos.

As a company, Nando’s have always tried to keep our five main values at the forefront of every decision that’s made. We believe if you show pride, passion, courage, integrity and truly value family, you can’t go far wrong.

The original Nando’s came from very humble beginnings, which is possibly why a sense of community is rooted in the business from the boardroom down.

In 1987, in one of the poorest suburbs of Johannesburg, entrepreneur Robert Brozin visited his friend and Portugese émigré Fernando Duarte. They stopped at a Portuguese takeaway called Chickenland, which is where Nando’s was born. Impressed by the food, the pair bought the takeaway in 1987 for a reported 80,000 Rand (then around £25,000). Within three years they had rebranded the restaurant, truncating Duarte’s first name to create the name Nando’s and had opened three Johannesburg outlets. Today the number of Nando’s restaurants globally surpasses 1,500.

As a company, Nando’s made £535 million in revenue during 2014. That figure was a huge increase on 2010, when the company still made a very healthy £280 million. Duarte’s peri-peri chicken empire has continued to spread its wings in the face of a global economic crisis, which has affected thousands across the country.

During the same four-year period, a Salford businessman named Tony went from being a millionaire to staying in the Salford Loaves and Fishes night shelter.

“He’s the most respectable looking guy you could ever see,” explains chef Leo. “But whatever figure you may have on a screen, it isn’t real money anymore. It can be gone in an instant.”

That certainly was the case for Tony, who now lives at the shelter on a permanent basis. He owned a successful telemarketing company that went into administration during the financial crisis. At the same time he was going through a costly divorce with his estranged wife, who had kept the marital home to look after their children. Tony was declared bankrupt in 2013 and was homeless for around three months before he came to the shelter without a penny to his name.

Leo says Tony’s story is an all too familiar one: “The market crashed, they can’t afford their mortgage, their wife walks out on them and they are in a situation they’ve never experienced before. What do you do? It really can be that easy to go from one end of the spectrum to another.”

Despite helping thousands of people in desperate situations like Tony’s, Nando’s are keen to keep their food donation out of the public glare, which Bob explains is another decision taken from the company’s core values. “It’s always been our philosophy that we don’t want to blow our own trumpet. We’d rather know we’re doing the right thing than tell everyone about it. The important thing here is to know that we are acting responsibly.”

There are loads of people living in poverty in the UK at present so it is important for us to do what we can to support them.

While Nando’s are keen to keep donating behind closed doors, Ken is adamant that people should be made aware of the great help Nando’s has been to the local community. “Most people think that big business’ like Nando’s are bad for local communities,” explains Ken. “But without their generosity, I dread to think of the amount of people in Salford who would be going hungry tonight.”

Most people would agree that having a job that exposes you to so many sad stories on a daily basis would be an unenviable task, but Salford Loaves and Fishes chef Leo believes it provides him with an invaluable sense of perspective. “You’ve got to be able to laugh. The saying is smile in the face of adversity and that’s certainly true here. We can go home at the end of a hard day; we’re the lucky ones who can choose when we eat. You have to put the people here first.”

Since opening eight years ago, the centre has seen a continual increase in numbers through its doors. Salford Loaves and Fishes now employ seven full-time members of staff and have around thirty regular volunteers. “It’s not a job that you can just do 9-5, it’s not about a wage,” says Leo. “You’ve got to love being here; you’ve got to want to do it. I worked as a volunteer here for four years before taking up my paid role and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. The centre has become my second home.” With the help of Nando’s, the centre is also becoming a home for many others who would otherwise be without one.

By: Kamuran Kulaviz

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