I’m Clara Widdison from Mayor’s Fund for London and this is #MYCHARITY

This week on the #MYCHARITY series, we speak to Clara Widdison, from Mayor’s Fund for London, the charity who support young Londoners and  promotes the activities which best increases their opportunities. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is their patron.

Clara Widdison from Kitchen Social at Mayor's Fund for London
Clara Widdison from Kitchen Social at Mayor’s Fund for London

Location: London

Current job: Kitchen Social Programme Manager at Mayor’s Fund for London

One word that best describes how you work: Commitment

Current mobile device: Samsung Galaxy S10

Favourite website: Imgur.com

First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.

I knew that I wanted to work in food when I left University, but I had no idea what roles were available or what my skill set would suit. I felt around blindly for many years – running a cookery blog, volunteering at food charities or coops and applying for jobs that seemed like they might be the right ‘fit’ (they weren’t!). Through a process of elimination, I understood what it was that I loved to do and how I could do it. One day I saw an article in a newspaper about a new social enterprise in the food sector. I rang them up and said ‘I have to work for you!’ That job changed my life.

Take us through a recent workday.

Kitchen Social is a pan-London program organised by Mayor’s Fund in response to holiday food insecurity. We work through one hundred grassroots organizations across London to get nutritious meals and enriching activities to children who may not have either otherwise.

Although this current public health crisis, the Coronavirus crisis, isn’t a school holiday, children from low income backgrounds are still out of school and at risk of hunger and malnutrition. The research we have done suggests that this applies to 300,000 children in London.

That’s why we’re continuing to help children living in food insecure households. At the moment I am speaking to our hubs about developing an emergency response to get food to these young people and their families. We’re also speaking to partners and families about supporting us to achieve this.

On a daily basis, we’re working with the Felix Project, FareShare and City Harvest to deliver food parcels to vulnerable families in London. We’re also working with Thomas Franks to make sure that children have fresh, healthy meals. If you’re keen to help, please consider donating to our appeal here: https://bit.ly/3a74VIp. Your support means that our Kitchen Social hubs can continue to provide packed lunches, hot food for collection & food hampers for those in need.

In the meantime, I am juggling my day job with caring for a toddler, and so the days are pretty manic at the moment!

How do you discover new ways to innovate in your working day? 

At Mayor’s Fund for London we are constantly reviewing and reflecting on the work we do and how to improve and develop our model. We do that through feedback from young people and their families, our delivery partners and through engaging with the most up to date research. There isn’t a day that goes by when I am not tinkering with something – I think of myself as a social engineer.

What is the next big thing in the charity sector?

Sustainability! It’s been on the cards for years, but it is something we haven’t fully embraced as an industry. As funding becomes less available and more competitive, a lot of charities are looking for ways to become more self-sustaining. I come from a social enterprise background and I foresee that a lot of traditional charities will start moving into this space in the upcoming years.

How do you choose business partners to support the charity?

A lot of corporate partners want to work with us because we support children in the city in which they are based. We try to work with those who share our passion – getting great quality, nutritious food to children! We have brilliant partnerships with organisations such as Caravan Restaurants,  Waitrose, Wahaca and Soho House.

Tell us about your favourite case history of the most successful partnership.  

It’s so hard to choose – we really do have wonderful funders and sponsors. The restaurants are always so much fun to work with – they come along to our hubs and cook with our children and it’s an absolute joy to see the young people engage with new foods and the concept of professional cooking, some for the first time. We also have brilliant relationships with the surplus food providers in London, such as City Harvest and the Felix Project. They get great quality food into our hubs, and our hubs turn them into delicious meals for children.

How do you recharge? What do you do when you want to forget about work?

Rarely do I want to forget about work. I went into the charity sector knowing that I would have to sacrifice large pay checks, corporate perks and a glamorous career – instead I get a real sense of joy and pride in what we all do.

Sometimes to destress, I will cook at home, often for friends or family, whilst listening to questionable music very loudly. My toddler is always first in line when I am making banana pancakes.

What are you currently reading, or what’s something you’d recommend?

Nowadays I don’t get much time to read – my toddler sees to that! I have a huge pile of books on my bedside table that I am constantly promising to pick up. My favourite thing to flick through is cookbooks. I don’t follow recipes when I cook, but I love the photography and the inspiring ideas. Plus I can pick them up and put them down without worrying about forgetting the storyline!

Fill in the blank: I’d love to see _____ answer these same questions.

There are so many people in this sector that I find inspiring. It would be great to hear more from the female powerhouses leading the movement for a better food system such as Anna Taylor from Food Foundation , Kath Dalmeny from SustaIn and Kemi Akinola from Be Enriched.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

My former boss gave me so much great advice. He really shaped who I am. One piece of advice that sticks with me is “This too shall pass.” Whenever I have a tough day, I recall this, and I know there is a much brighter one on the way. It seems a fitting piece of advice for our current situation.

You can follow Mayor’s Fund for London on Instagram @mayorsfundforlondon


The WeGiveIt #MYCHARITY series asks heroes, experts, and leaders to share their ambitions, routines and more and it’s published on WeGiveI Blog.