Oxford Food Bank recognised in Queen's Birthday Honours

Banbury Cake: Co-directors of Oxford Food Bank, Robin Aitken, left, and David Cairns, who have received MBEs. Picture: OX67818Damian Halliwell Co-directors of Oxford Food Bank, Robin Aitken, left, and David Cairns, who have received MBEs. Picture: OX67818Damian Halliwell

OXFORDSHIRE’S great and good have been recognised in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.

Citizens across the county were given titles for their contribution to their communities.

Among them were Robin Aitken and David Cairns, who helped found Oxford Food Bank (OFB), based in New Hinksey Lane.

Oxford resident Mr Aitken said: “I’ve always felt that wasting food is a secular sin.

“It’s immoral when people are in need of food.”

The 61-year-old’s decision to do something about it, by co-founding OFB with Mr Cairns five years ago, has led to both of them receiving MBEs.

They first met about six years ago as newly-retired professionals looking for something worthwhile to do.

Mr Aitken was a medical school dropout and former radio and TV journalist with the BBC.

Mr Cairns, 60, of Islip, was a Belfast-born mechanical engineer who had worked around the world in the oil industry and then as an executive and director in the UK manned security industry.

They met through a group who had already been discussing what to do about about food waste and feeding the poor. Mr Aitken said: “It all came to nothing so we started up on our own.

“I rang up Sainsbury’s in Kidlington and said: ‘How about it? Can you give us the food you’re going to throw away?’ They were terrific.”

The pair started delivering the food to local charities in their own cars and with the help of some friends.

Today, OFB involves about 100 volunteers, aged 16 to 75, who distribute fresh fruit and vegetables, dried foods, dairy and bread to about 50 charities every day.

Cash costs are only about £30,000 a year – to run three trucks and rent a warehouse in Botley – whereas the estimated annual commercial value of the food delivered is about £1 million.

Although there are about 500 food banks throughout the UK, Mr Cairns argues the OFB has its own model.

He said: “The traditional food bank is where individuals buy tins of goods and donate them. The food bank will parcel them out to individuals. We are unique in that we don’t charge any money anywhere and we are entirely voluntary.”

The OFB sources its food directly from supermarkets and wholesalers, about 12 in total, and donates it to the charities, which in turn give the food away to individuals.

The pair estimate they work up to 30 hours a week.

Mr Cairns, a married father of two daughters, aged 28 and 30, said: “This MBE is a recognition of all the people involved. Robin and I just happen to be the figureheads.”

Mr Aitken, who is married with two daughters, aged 30 and 32, said he and Mr Cairns “complement each other”.

The Queen’s birthday honours are bestowed every year to people in the Commonwealth.

They include Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE), for people with a major local role in an activity.

The MBE, Member of the Order of the British Empire, recognises a “significant achievement or outstanding service to the community.”

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