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Coronavirus: How an architect is helping to feed NHS frontline staff

Feul our frontline collage
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The AJ talks to architect Kyriaki Pouangare about setting up Fuel Our Frontline, a not-for-profit company providing essential groceries to NHS staff

While many practices have helped print PPE and sew scrubs for doctors and nurses, Pouangare and her partner have gone a step further. They have set up a non-profit community interest company to get food to the medical staff working long shifts to fight the coronavirus crisis.

The architect explains how she has used her architectural training to solve problems and raise awareness for the cause. 

Tell us about your current professional life and what you ‘normally’ do? 
The pandemic has found me in life-changing circumstances. Having studied, worked and qualified as an architect in the UK, I decided to return back home to Cyprus. I was previously working in a medium-sized architecture company in London, Stephen Davy Peter Smith Architects. The practice’s primary workload involved residential developments around London and much of its works came from frameworks with Housing Associations.

I am currently looking for work in Cyprus, although, as you might imagine, this is moving very slowly. Having found myself with a lot of free time I decided to do something worthwhile with it.

How did you first get involved in Fuel Our Frontline?
My partner, Michael Polak, who lives in London, texted me while I was detained in a hotel in Cyprus on mandatory quarantine for two weeks, as I had just arrived from the United Kingdom, and told me had a great idea. This is how this initiative started.

Our skills at architects could be employed to do a lot of good

I’d had previous experience creating websites and social media to raise awareness for causes, and that became my first task for this organisation. Obviously, I needed to be in control of the graphics and branding for Fuel Our Frontline, the organisation we created.

Within four days we had a team of volunteers from our social circle and began raising money. Early on, we made sure to include NHS staff in our team, primarily to ensure that our ideas were addressing the needs of the people we aimed at supporting and secondly to help us establish a network within the different hospitals.

It was the generosity and community spirit of Londoners and those who supported us from the rest of the country, who donated the money for which enabled us to transform a good idea into a worthwhile initiative. I am happy to say that Fuel Our Frontline is now a registered non-profit community interest company.

Can you explain what Fuel Our Frontline does? 
It provides essential groceries to our frontline NHS staff, such as doctors, nurses, and support staff such as cleaners who are working long shifts to fight the virus. We are providing basic items such as bread, butter, eggs, pasta, milk and honey. This is a very simple idea, but after hearing many accounts of healthcare professionals being unable to source these basic items as they are working long shifts and have little time to go out searching the empty supermarkets, we decided we could help.

We are in constant communication with NHS staff to ensure that we source what is needed. For example, we are now adding fruits to our typical packages following requests from NHS staff. We also adjust to circumstances, during Ramadan we are providing dates for NHS staff fasting.

Fuel our frontline delivery

Fuel our Frontline - delivery

Fuel our Frontline - a food delivery

It is important to stress that our organisation is only possible because of the donations from private individuals and companies, who have kindly donated money through our GoFundMe and our website.

We have also established collaborations with designers who are offering half their proceeds towards our cause. One of which is a fashion designer, Florence Bridge, who is creating hand-made masks and has managed to raise a considerable amount of money for our organisation.

We provide £1,500 worth of groceries every day, so we need more donations to ensure that we can run for the duration of this crises. One of the reasons we became a non-profit company is to ensure that we can receive donations from other charities as well as from individuals.

How has your architectural training/approach to problem-solving helped with Fuel Our Frontline?
Managing Fuel Our Frontline is similar to working with a client on a project. We identify the need, establish the brief and requirements of the project, and then co-ordinate with other professionals to materialise the work. Considering the most effective and efficient way of supporting these individuals is our key goal.

What’s very important is to understand the people we aim to support, establishing communication channels and ensuring that we address their needs. We have introduced ambassadors to our organisation, mostly healthcare professionals who are there to advise us and keep us on point, as well as promoting what we do.

There are many initiatives that provide takeaway food to NHS staff. However, providing groceries addresses their needs better, by allowing them to share a number of meals with their families and also by limiting the spread of the virus by reducing the numbers of health workers who need to attend the shops.

Architects don’t often involve ourselves outside our profession

I am also very pleased that our organisation provides for all working in the NHS, not just doctor’s and nurses. We have made drops to the Ambulance Service and we also provide for district nurses, who seem to be left behind even though they are vital for our healthcare services during the pandemic supporting the most vulnerable amongst us.

How long do you think you will continue this initiative?
Our ambition is to continue for the duration of the crisis, however long it may last. We are currently expecting to run until the end of summer, subject to funding.

At the moment we are making drops in London, Essex and Scotland. However, we want to secure more funds to be able to donate groceries across the UK, to areas that have been hit by the pandemic, now at the peak of the crisis.

What do you think other architects or students could learn from what you have achieved?
Architects have very versatile set of skills. However, we don’t often involve ourselves outside our profession. Our skills, such as problem solving and co-ordination could be employed to do a lot of good.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • Clare Richards

    AJ, why don't you have a regular slot to feature practices and individuals, like Kyriaki Pouangare and Fuel our Frontline, that have launched ideas with different communities in response to the pandemic. Given that architects work collaboratively, with many different providers and social groups, we have the skills and potential for this kind of social innovation. Let's build on and sustain the great ideas for mutual support that have helped create a sense of community in a time of crisis. Social sustainability is one of the 3 key UN sustainability goals underpinning our planning legislation. This is not an add-on – it's fundamental to what being and architect is all about.

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