With a combined total of 2,178 items donated to food banks so far (as of 24/11) across the competition, the initiative’s founder has heralded it as “testament to the organising power of the JCRs across Oxbridge”. EDEN COOK-WATSON

‘The Great Oxbridge BOGOF’ is a collaborative, inter-collegiate Oxbridge contest encouraging students to donate as many resources as possible to their local food banks in weeks six to eight of Michaelmas Term, under the maxim ‘Buy One Give One Free!’ when going to the shops.

As of this Tuesday (24/11), the eight Oxford and fourteen Cambridge colleges taking part have donated a combined total of 2,178 items to local food banks, with Cambridge leading Oxford by 1,207 to 971.

This week, Varsity spoke to the founder of the advocacy group ‘Because We Can’, who organised the BOGOF competition, as well as student representatives from four of the Cambridge colleges participating in the group’s current initiative. 

Food bank usage in the UK has increased by 74% since 2015, with The Trussel Trust estimating that the pandemic could lead to a 61% overall increase in food bank usage in the UK. In this context, Josh Tulloch, the founder of ‘Because We Can’, believes that immediate action against food poverty is essential, with “the pandemic threaten[ing] to devastate the already devastated”. 

The former Lady Margaret Hall JCR President has had personal experiences with life on the breadline, telling Varsity that “[he] was homeless for a period of time in [his] early teens and faced situations where [his] family didn’t know where the next meal would come from. Luckily, we had the support of friends, charities and local councils. Many others aren’t so lucky. So, ‘Because We Can’ aims to help those who have fallen through the gaping holes in our social safety net. The fundamental principle driving us is: if it’s possible to help, why not help?”

While he has participated in other advocacy work on racial equality during his time at Oxford, Tulloch says ‘The Great Oxbridge BOGOF’ is the first time he has been involved in food poverty-related work, and is delighted by the results of the ‘BOGOF’ so far. 

“I continue to be amazed by the enthusiasm shown by the JCR Presidents from both Oxford and Cambridge”, Tulloch continued. “The fact that students donated 1200+ items within the first 5 days is simply staggering! It’s a testament to the organising power of the JCRs across Oxbridge. It shows that people are always keen to help; they just need somewhere to direct their energy.”

After a few “manic” weeks of organisation and a Zoom call with representatives from twelve Oxbridge colleges within two weeks of having the idea to spearhead the initiative, Tulloch believes the ‘BOGOF’ could become a regular annual fixture in the Oxbridge calendar. 

“When people think of the Oxbridge rivalry hopefully the ‘BOGOF’ will be on the same list as the boat race and the rugby match”. Tulloch also elaborated on his ideas for the future expansion of the project, saying that “Beyond Oxbridge, it would be incredible to take this national, and set up varsity competitions for universities across the UK.”

Elliott Stockdale, a student involved in organising participation in the ‘BOGOF’ at Queen’s, “first heard about the initiative through a friend at Magdalene and [...] felt it was most definitely something [he] wanted to get on board with. Not only did it align with [his] own personal values but also with the ethos of [...] Queen’s.”

Stockdale added: “With the difficulties of this year in everyone’s minds, it is only right that we acknowledge the lucky position we are in as students and look after our local community, particularly in the winter months. The food banks are under significant strain and it is only right that we aid them in any way possible.”

Similarly, Harriet Hards, Emmanuel College Student Union (ECSU) President, added that “we’ve been consumed by COVID matters all term, so this scheme has come as a wonderful way to refocus our perspectives and consider how we can be helpful to those outside the college walls. [....] I think most students would be happy to donate to food banks anyway, but the competitive element and regular leaderboard updates might prompt people to give a bit more or a bit more often throughout the campaign, especially if they see that other colleges are doing better than us.” Emmanuel are currently in fifth place on 74 items.


Mountain View

Fitzwilliam help to deliver 200 free meals to families during half-term

With Girton sandwiched between Queen’s and Emmanuel in ninth place on 52 items, Elisha Roberts, a student responsible for organising the ‘BOGOF’ there, also drew attention to the longevity of the campaign in bringing about a meaningful impact.

“I was inspired to take part by the idea that this campaign is not just a two-week long competition that only has a short-term impact”, Roberts told Varsity, adding that while “[she] would be keen to see a similar campaign run in the future, [she] also want[s] to encourage students to make a habit out of donating to the food bank collection in Sainsbury’s.”

Meanwhile for Milly Cox, the JCR Charities Officer at St Catharine’s - currently in twelfth place with 29 items - student uptake thus far has been a cause for celebration. “Households and different parts of Catz have gotten competitive with each other [...] for example, our boxes are spread out across different sites, with some boxes for singular households and others for whole year groups.”

Cox continued: “Every time we count up donations, we can see how many donations have been made relative to the number of people living on that site and on a few occasions, single households have beaten sites with over 100 students. The competition, even within Catz, has been really intense!”

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