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Sukhbir Singh / 27 June 2023
Sukhbir Singh on finding courage
The three moments of pure, determined courage that led 2018 Common Purpose alumni Sukhbir Singh to create a game-changing social movement
The three moments of pure, determined courage that led 2018 Common Purpose alumni Sukhbir Singh to create a game-changing social movement.
"I didn’t have control over the fact that I couldn’t feed myself when I was younger. But now I have the strength and the knowledge to do that for others. Nothing will stand in the way of me doing that."
The first time Sukhbir Singh wore shoes was when he first arrived in the United Kingdom as a pre-teen. He had grown up in a town in India where food, clean water and electricity was a rarity, so it’s not hard to imagine the culture shock he encountered when he moved to Manchester.
Sukhbir got his first job at a “very hard, very dirty” cotton mill, an opportunity he didn’t take for granted as it provided him a stepping stone into the job industry. He then applied for a role at an IT company but missed out. He was determined to prove his worth so he decided to reapply, and again he missed out. But on his third application, he was successful. He worked there for 43 years, eventually becoming a manager and leading a team, before he retired in 2018.
It was at this point that he wondered: What’s next?
As it turns out, the answer became his greatest adventure yet, and two events catalysed this.
Sukhbir had travelled to India about six years prior to his retirement where he had voluntarily helped to feed the people from his hometown. In two days, he served 2000 meals. It cost him £200.
The experience confirmed what he had always hoped to do – to set up a charity that would feed the people of his city in India. But when Sukhbir returned to Manchester, he encountered barriers that were difficult to overcome given he was based so far away from India. Instead, he sought to bring the initiative to Manchester, the city that had given him a new lease on life all those years ago.
Coinciding with his retirement in 2018, Sukhbir attended Common Purpose’s Meridian Programme which ultimately gave him both the curiosity, determination and purpose he needed take his biggest leap: it was here that FeedMyCity officially launched.
Since its 2018 inception, Sukhbir has grown the charity from a small social cause to a game-changing movement by applying a significant amount of learning from his experience on the Meridian Programme, which he credits as being the reason FeedMyCity is thriving in the way it is today. The charity, which is part of the Manchester Sikh Foundation founded by Sukhbir, now has more than 100 volunteers, 4 trustees and a management team. It has a warehouse filled with food, and in four and a half years, it has served 300,000 hot meals and delivered around 10,000 emergency drive-through parcels to people in need. The core of FeedMyCity's values is simple: To provide food to anybody in need, with no questions asked, and no judgements made. The service can be accessed via phone, online or email seven days a week.
The impact this charity has isn’t lost on Sukhbir, but that’s not to say he hasn’t encountered some extremely challenging moments which have tested his limits.
But at each of these hurdles, Sukhbir has searched within and found he possesses an asset crucial to the success of strong, purposeful and impactful leadership: Courage.
Here, he takes us through three moments that required his deepest, unrelenting courage – with the results speaking for themselves.
- Active listening: "The Common Purpose programme reinforced the fact that when you go and talk to people and they’re willing to talk to you and give you time, they’ve already committed to giving you something. But the important thing to remember is that they’re not always going to say what you want to hear. When these professionals give you their time, make sure you listen and listen and listen again. It’s their view; so accept their view and take from it what is useful for you."
- Trusting others: “We have a large team of volunteers, and many of them haven’t met each other, but we need to allow them to operate when and how they want. Believe it or not, we give a key to the food warehouse to everybody after meeting them once. Many people said I might have a problem with people stealing things. But the opposite has happened; People actually bring more stuff in. Having that trust and taking a leap of faith is everything when it comes to driving a social cause forwards."
- Trusting your instincts and following your purpose: "One of the biggest challenges we continue to have is navigating the communication of our structure between volunteers, trustees and myself. Getting people together in a room can be difficult, and there are occasions when I have to make financial decisions on behalf of the charity. On one occasion, I made a decision about an event we hosted which saw us go into deficit. It wasn’t necessarily a large amount, but it was enough to cause frustration in a meeting we held after the event. We eventually worked out the finances, but I felt really upset in that meeting, so I told them how earlier that day, I had completed three food deliveries to people in need in North Manchester. I asked one lady if she wanted more food, and she said yes. When I gave it to her, she started crying. I thought that maybe I’d done something wrong before she told me she was crying out of happiness because her children hadn’t eaten for two days. Through this charity, I was able to feed a family of five. That, to me, is more valuable than any challenge we face internally."
Sukhbir finishes with one final piece of advice: "You have so much more power than you think. Sometimes progress can be very slow. But just listen, take what you need from others, and don’t take no for an answer."
That, as he's well and truly proved, is real courage.
If you know of anybody who is in need, phone FeedMyCity on 0300 365 3101 to access emergency food across Manchester, Salford, and Trafford.