I like to think of myself as a closet van expert. I can spot a Boxer or Berlingo a mile down the road and know my gross vehicle weights as well as the alphabet. But ask me about electric vans and I’ll be gazing up the highway for the answer. Food Train currently has 34 diesel vans on the road, an assortment of medium sized vans spanning anything from ‘nearly new’ up to 10+ years old, all with varying badges of honour, otherwise known as ‘close encounters with car park bollards’. While all our vans get a regular clean, they are not the cleanest when it comes to carbon emissions and I’m conscious that we are contributing to the climate challenge instead of helping it. Every Food Train van has taken a serious fundraising effort to buy it and for 52 weeks of the year they are constantly on the road delivering vital food supplies to our members, helping them eat well at home.   Without our vans we simply can’t deliver our service to those who need us, you could say they are our bread and butter. Having a fleet that is clean, green and much cheaper to run would be better for the environment and help our Charity become more sustainable, but it’s a pipe dream … or is it?

I’ve spotted the odd electric van on the road, mainly small ones, and gazed longingly as they zip by silently, wondering how many decades it would be before we could even muster up the funds for a second hand one. I imagined I’d be long past retirement before I saw an electric Food Train van on the road. When we first saw the adverts for SP Energy Networks Green Economy Fund, my colleague Gaynor and I had a chat about submitting an application, mainly along the lines of ‘they probably won’t fund the likes of us, it will be big infrastructure projects’, but we agreed to rustle up an application and give it a go for some electric vans. Quick bit of research, price check, write it up and we’d be good to go. How wrong can one be! What a minefield of information; you’ve got to get your head round kilowatts and ion’s and know your AC from your DC to get the right charge for your needs. It was tricky to find what we needed to build our funding bid with any degree of accuracy. The electric van market is small, Government subsidy information is inconsistent across the UK nations and every website we found on charging stations left us with more questions, not less.

To our big surprise we made it to stage 2 of the Green Economy Fund process. Then came the real home work on the carbon reductions possible by switching some of our fleet from diesel to electric. We had to look closely at our routes and try and match them to battery ranges, which fluctuate with weather, alongside mapping charging points so we won’t end up out of charge half way round with boxes full of fresh food. Once the stage 2 paperwork was complete, to be honest I didn’t give it much more thought. You can imagine our shock, surprise and joy to hear we’d been awarded £452,413 from the Green Economy Fund (the 3rd biggest funding award in our 24-year history) to buy 9 (yes 9) electric vans and put in charging stations.

Our journey to clean and green has begun and I’m still a good few years away from retirement!GEF Award