Sheffield’s Real Junk Food Project – which turns surplus food destined for landfill into tasty meals at pay-as-you-feel cafés and runs a market, an educational programme, high end dining events and a fast growing catering operation – has been named one of the 16 most promising microenterprises in the UK.

The firm, a social enterprise, has grown tenfold after working with Sheffield-based responsible finance provider, Key Fund.

Its lean team coordinate the efforts of almost 200 volunteers, according to co-founder Rene Meijer. They feed the same amount of people in a day a foodbank will average a month.

In a single month the Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield serves 8,000 meals, intercepting 5 tonnes of food per week, with each tonne of food saving the equivalent of 4 tonnes of carbon dioxide. The Sharehouse Market serves 50 to 100 people per day, 5 days a week.

The project’s exponential growth came after Key Fund provided loan and grant support for a warehouse and administration structure to roll out a programme for schools and to develop routes to employment for volunteers.

Since we’ve worked with Key Fund our operation has grown by a multiple of ten in the past 12 months, Rene said. We have gone from a single part-time cafe run 100% by a few dozen volunteers to running 2 full time community hubs, a 5000sq ft warehouse and market, an educational programme, high end dining events and a fast growing catering operation.”

Their future ambition is to work in every school in Sheffield to empower the next generation around food, waste, fairness and value.

This week The Real Junk Food Project: Sheffield was named one of four finalists for the ‘Social Enterprise of the Year’ award in the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards, funded by the Citi Foundation.

And Sheffield-based responsible finance provider Key Fund – marking its 15th anniversary of investing this year – has two other client businesses in the running for the 16 Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards – and has itself been nominated for an award in recognition of its resilience.

The Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards are the annual celebration of Britain’s microentrepreneurs that have accessed “responsible” business finance, and the four social enterprise of the year award finalists are in the running for a £7,500 cash prize and national and international recognition in this year’s awards.

Bob Annibale, Global Director, Citi Inclusive Finance and Community Development, said,Every year the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards celebrate the innovation and talent of UK microentrepreneurs and responsible finance providers. The quality of applications was very high this year, and the finalists represent some of the best emerging microentrepreneurs in the UK who have enriched their local economies and communities.

“It is also important to recognise the integral work of responsible finance providers such as Key Fund. Our responsible finance finalists have gone above and beyond to support their clients and communities and we are proud to support them through the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards.”

The winners of the Citi Microentrepreneurship Awards will be announced at an Awards Ceremony on 20 March 2018 in Glasgow.