The Chief Executive of Mary’s Meal’s UK talks about his love of Dundee, feeding 2 million kids a day and the meeting that changed his life.
Growing up in Dundee
I grew up in a really poor part of Dundee.
The key cornerstones in life for my family was our local parish church, Our Lady of Sorrows, and also our local schools of St Luke’s Primary and my high school.
It’s a beautiful foundation that Catholic education gives you. There’s a sense of community that comes from it — that was a key touch point from my childhood.
My family was very working class, but I had one of those lucky childhoods where my parents were just extremely supportive of me doing whatever I wanted to do, and they just nurtured my interests. And I’m not just saying this because it’s The Scottish Catholic but the Church’s support for me too, is a huge part of why I’ve managed to succeed in life so far, I would say.
As is Dundee itself. I miss everything about it and to be honest, I would go back there in a heartbeat if we hadn’t built a life in Glasgow for the last decade.
My last job in journalism was with My Weekly, the women’s magazine. At that time, my job was primarily doing celebrity interviews. There’s nothing wrong with that, and lots of people love doing it, but pop culture isn’t really my thing.
So I was asking myself, what’s next? And then fate intervened massively.
I’ll tell you about one step before that fateful moment, where I interviewed Gok Wan. I really remember that interview, because he was just an absolute hysterical laugh. It was one of the strangest but funniest interviews I had ever done. T
he reason it sticks in my mind so much is not because he’s flamboyant and interesting and funny, but the next interview I did was the polar opposite, because I came into work one day and was asked to interview the founder of a charity.
Mary’s Meals, Meeting Magnus
That charity was Mary’s Meals. I had heard of Mary’s Meals a wee bit but it wasn’t hugely well-known across Scotland at that stage, even though this was 9 or 10 years into its existence.
I went into that interview with Magnus [MacFarlane-Barrow] that day, and it was so different to my usual beat, because he was doing something amazing rather than acting on EastEnders or Coronation Street.
Anyway, I came away from that meeting with Magnus completely changed, just completely changed.
I came away from that meeting with Magnus completely changed, just completely changed.
I was blown away. I couldn’t believe that Mary’s Meals, this thing born in Scotland, was something that I didn’t know more about. It was this really beautiful thing emerging from the Scottish Catholic laity. It just amazed me.
Ultimately it changed the course of my life. A little later a job came up and Mary’s Meals, and I wasn’t sure. But I went for it, got it and the pieces really fell into place.
Mary’s Meals and Hunger
Mary’s Meals redundancy is unlikely to come within our lifetimes because of the scale of the challenge that faces us. One of the frustrations I think about is some people are desperate to hear about exit strategies, exit plans etc. And while it is important to talk about that and handing over our school feeding programmes to governments eventually, the scale of poverty in these nations and the different spending priorities that there are in places
like Malawi, that feels to be quite far off. Very far off, in fact. So having a fixation on exit strate- gies and exit plans we think can be a bit coun- terproductive at times.
I would say that for every individual child, there’s an exit plan after seven or eight years, which helps them to become better educated than they would have otherwise been.
We talk about service to Mary’s Meals being vocational. You don’t do it because of the salary. You could take your skillset and experience and earn more money elsewhere.
There’s always a balance between growing an organisation, and the need to make sure your staff team are looked after, but we’re never going to compete with the market on wages, so we’re trying to do what we can within our principles to make people as happy working for us as they possibly can be. But you’ve absolutely got to fill the cup of fulfilment with your vocation on top of that.
Being a Catholic
In the increasingly secular society we live in it makes it challenging to be a person of Faith.
I think it’s more challenging than it had been in the past. I’m worried that people’s approach in secular societies these days is more indifferent than it is concerned. Indifference to religious belief and religious faith.
So I worry about that personally, but I always think about how Pope Benedict talked about how a smaller Church with a deeper and stronger faith may well in the end, be better that a much larger Church with a lukewarm faith. I’m not sure that is totally in line with the way Pope Francis sees it, but maybe there’s a healthy tension there.