I first got involved in Flo’s because I was looking for volunteering opportunities. I had taken redundancy and been kind of starting my own business and testing different things, and realised that, actually, I wanted to get more involved with my new community. Before redundancy I'd been overseas with my role for many, many years, and I'd moved back to Oxford at the start of the pandemic. I wanted to get to know who my new community were.
I Googled volunteering opportunities in Oxford and Flo's came up pretty close to the top of the list. I thought ‘Oh, Flo's is just down the road.’ I've been to the cafe before, but I've never really seen anything else about it. I walked down and said ‘Hey, I'm interested in understanding what volunteering opportunities you have’, and Helen, who runs the refill shop, said ‘Oh! Amazing! This is the refill shop, this is what we do. Do you have time now?’ ‘Err, yeah, I do have time now. Okay!’
We literally did a first shift there and then, it was great! Helen was incredibly kind and easy to talk to. It was an opportunity to get to know people that are working at Flo's, people that come as customers to Flo's, and yeah, root myself in my new community. So that's what I did, I started off as a refill shop volunteer.
Early on, Helen asked what my skillset was, what was I doing before. I said I was in a large multinational company working as a packaging engineer. She said ‘Oh really? You need to have a chat with our founder, Annie. We've been looking at opportunities to make our own products at Flo's and we might need your help.’ So that's what I did, I had a chat with Annie.
I really wanted to be part of Flo's because I just loved the buzz of the place. I loved coming in and seeing all of the different people that were here. You had mothers sat next to grandparents, sat next to businessmen, sat next to all sorts of different people in the cafe, and I just thought ‘Yeah, this is a really cool place that feels like a hub with things going on and I want to be part of that.’
So I pulled a CV together and said, ‘Hey Annie, I'm looking for something part-time and if anything comes along within Flo's that you think fits my experience, I would really love to be considered.’ And she said, ‘Funny you say that, have you heard of No Vice Ice?’ It's one of the social enterprises that were incubated by Flo's the previous year. They were looking for some new directors. People with business development skills or experience working on projects within the food industry.
So I started as both a director for No Vice Ice and as their business development manager as well. I’ve been learning all sorts about how to run a business, how to build business plans and understand finances, which I didn't know before, so I feel like, yeah, just coming to Flo's as a volunteer and wanting to get to know my community has led to me learning this whole new set of skills that I never had been exposed to before.
Alongside the work that I was doing for No Vice Ice, a role also opened up to look after the production kitchen that No Vice Ice and two other social enterprises, Oxford Community Action and Syrian Sisters, use to produce food and products that are sold in the local community. So I started as the kitchen coordinator, managing all the room bookings, making sure it was up to food hygiene standards, and generally supporting those social enterprises.
That then linked me in with the OX4 Food Crew, which is also another big part of Flo's. They’re an alliance of grassroots organisations that work to make sure people don’t go without food. As a result of that, I've done gleaning trips with No Vice Ice that have then benefited those within OCA, within Oxford Mutual Aid – errm, I've become a volunteer for OMA as well, and seen then the great work that that team are doing. So yeah, I feel like my life has just become so much fuller as a result of sending that email to Helen all those months ago now saying ‘Hi, can I come join the refill shop please?
Towards the end of my time in my previous role I was suffering with periods of anxiety and yeah, I had quite a low belief in my abilities in what I was doing at the time, which I know now is really unjustified. I know I'm really good at what I did before as a packaging engineer, but I'd been in projects where it just wore me down. I was probably very close to burnout point, I recognise that in myself now. And Flo's part-time work gave me the opportunity to start building up my resilience and self-confidence again. I learned so many new skills that made me realise ‘No, actually I am, I am good at what I do.’
I was in a meeting when the OX4 Food Crew had just had a lottery fund bid, and they hadn't got it the first time, so there was a lot of work that went into trying to make sure that the project was right. They got an email to say ‘Congratulations, you've got the bid!’ And seeing the looks on the people's faces in the room that had worked tirelessly to try and get this money so that they could make such a big change for those living in OX4. It was humbling. There were tears, it put me to tears as well. That will always be there for me. It wasn't something that I directly did, but it was the reaction of those in the room, you could see there was so much passion and so much determination to get this so that it could improve the lives of others. And it just - you can't, you can't not be affected by that.
After that was when I got my first funding bid accepted for No Vice Ice. I just felt this huge sense of pride and excitement because I could see that this money is just going to go towards doing so much great stuff within the community. It's a real sense of pride and achievement.
Flo's was there for me, to help me back on my feet in my career, help me understand a bit more about social impact work, a bit more about purpose-driven businesses, which I didn't necessarily know before. And I feel really confident now that the next step within my career is actually going to be much more aligned to me as a person and Flo's has given me that.
It's led me to now go for a full-time job back within the food industry, but for a company that I believe is the right culture fit for me. It's going to be working for a B Corp organisation, a small organisation that does what they say they're going to do. If I hadn't have come to Flo's, I wouldn't have realised that the culture of a company that I work for actually is going to play such a big role for me moving forwards. I want to be working for purpose-driven businesses, I wouldn't have known that if I didn't come to Flo's.
Flo's is a catalyst for so many different things, because there's so much going on, it doesn't matter what skillset you have, it doesn't matter who you are, there's a place for you. And I think that that's, that really is a really key thing for me, there is always a place for you at Flo's.