WRAP’s response to a changing world

15 April 2020

The principal duties of a board of trustees are to protect the organisation’s mission, and to understand the needs of the people striving to deliver the mission. As WRAP’s Chair, it is from this perspective that I view the current crisis.

Front of mind is the gravity of the situation, and the suffering, uncertainty and anxiety it presents. On top of which, ‘working from home’, which sounds straightforward until you do it for a lengthy period, means less clear demarcations between work and a myriad other responsibilities. My sons are in their twenties now, but I well remember my phase of combining parenthood with home working, trying to fit calls and research between meals and entertainment, or negotiate support from important business people while burning fish fingers (they dislike fish fingers to this day). And it is not only children who need attention. I dearly hope that this currently essential way of working leads to more recognition of, and tolerance of, the needs of those who are parents, carers or simply good neighbours as well as being members of a workforce.

At WRAP our people are our greatest asset, and they are rising magnificently to the challenge. Quick decisions were made – thank you, the leadership team. We were already ahead of the game with the tech for remote communication, not least for sustainability reasons - thank you IT team. And to make it all work requires people with flexibility and resourcefulness – which we’ve shown in spades – thank you everyone.

As to the mission, the board signed off this year’s operational plan just as the lockdown came into place, in the full knowledge that the aspirations remained sound, but the timing was likely to be disrupted. We did not know at that point, barely a month ago, which elements of that plan we would be able to continue, which would need to be paused, and which might be rendered irrelevant or impossible to deliver. Now, it is clear that not only can we deliver much of the plan, but that our expertise has made an important contribution to alleviating the crisis. The ability to swiftly re-direct unused food from the hospitality supply chain, to set up a new food redistribution grant scheme, and to help innovative plastics businesses to produce medical equipment, are just a few examples.

I am proud to say that collaboration and resilience have been evidenced in all kinds of ways, as we help others to adapt their services and business models. We have been part of the sector response to the crisis, helping to ensure that waste services on the ground are not disrupted, something we tend to take for granted. Assets such as the Love Food Hate Waste website have been even more in demand from those keen to make more from less frequent shopping trips. We cannot hope to solve all the inevitable waste problems of such seismic disruption to an economy, but we have certainly played our part.

These successes have buoyed us up in the face of an uncertain future landscape. It is presently unknowable which businesses and business models will be the survivors, despite copious speculation. This is partly because we don’t yet know the limits of government and bank support, but also because it is unknowable whether new habits will stick, or we will quickly revert to the old ones. Some changed habits could be highly positive - less unnecessary travel, less unnecessary consumption. Inequalities and hardships will likely increase, but for many of us, our notions of ‘necessary’ will, and should, change. We might at last have a proper political debate about what is the right kind of ‘growth’. We also need a sharpened debate on the benefits, and indeed risks, of shorter supply chains and more localized production and self-sufficiency.

I hope we’ll see greater value placed on food, particularly more attention to planning meals and storing food properly as the primary factors in making food go further and reducing waste. Greater uptake of pre-loved goods, and making more of what we already have, will ideally endure when shopping restrictions are lifted. I thought that my re-purposing habits were already pretty good, but they have certainly developed further in the last month. Also habits as simple as truly appreciating the front-line people who collect our waste and recycling. Last week I saw a big smiley face sticker bearing the words ‘thank you for collecting our bins’, clearly drawn by a child, and hoped it gave the crew a boost.

Whatever the future holds, WRAP’s response to this crisis shows that we are able to adapt to changing circumstances and needs with alacrity, humour and determination. No more than my fellow trustees and I would have expected, but so very good to see it in action.