“Confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.” So says Luke Skywalker in Star Wars. When Steve Barnes, first saw the George Lucas film as a youngster in his hometown of Birmingham he freely admits it ‘literally blew my mind.’
‘Lucas,’ says the GroceryAid CEO, ‘had a singular vision.’ In his own characteristically much more modest way, so does Barnes: ‘We worked incredibly hard on raising awareness of GroceryAid in the last five years. We're on a journey that’s certainly nowhere near the destination. But we've got positive momentum now. I am really proud that the hundreds of colleagues who reach out to us every month are treated with care, compassion, humility, empathy and skill’.
If you’re ill, worried, or, yes, fearful, the industry’s charity will help you. This week’s black-tie GroceryAid Ball on the 10th of March at the Marriott Grosvenor House in Mayfair is the centrepiece of an intensive yearly calendar of fundraising events. Last held two years ago due to the pandemic, it raised £750,000 for the charity.
This year, with a star-studded entertainment line-up that includes Madness, and TV presenter Roman Kemp, Barnes hopes to do even better.
‘During the Covid crises we had colleagues who were prepared to do the right thing and go into work every day in supermarkets, factories and depots. To make sure the nation was fed they exposed themselves to a daily risk of infection. I'm really proud of the industry. And I hope we can raise even more money this year to help us keep making a difference.’
Barnes and his Croatian partner have brought up five children. The CEO speaks passionately and at pace about his home life. And when discussing his beloved Brentford FC and stars like striker Ivan Toney. He is a season ticketholder at Lionel Road. And enjoys the odd away game. Given his love of Star Wars, I suspect his perfect away fixture might be a rainy Tuesday night on Tatooine.
And he positively bubbles with enthusiasm for both the charity he leads and the industry he is clearly so proud to be a part of. ‘I took this role on in September 2016,’ he says. ‘It’s staffed by an amazing team of committed, driven people. And what we've sought to do since then is to organise the charity to become the most relevant and accessible benevolent fund operating in the country. I have always believed the Food and Drink industry is the best industry in the UK. And it deserves the best fund. My key responsibility is to make sure we achieve that.’
Despite the dramatic challenges of the pandemic, Barnes charts the recent growth of GroceryAid with real satisfaction.
‘Covid, paradoxically, gave us the opportunity to become even more of a partner to the trade than we have historically been. On average, we now support six hundred applications for financial support a month. It was just twenty a month when I joined.’
George Lucas once commented that he liked Star Wars, but it wasn’t “his whole life.” Everything about Steve Barnes suggests that, for him – with the exception, of course, of his family and Brentford FC – GroceryAid really is.