A homeless man who slept on the streets of a West coastal resort has managed to turn his life around and started a charity that delivers two tonnes of food to the vulnerable every week.
Mark Harvey, 51, had been a successful camera man – but in 2004 an injury forced him out of work.
Not long after, his marriage broke down and before he knew it the Londoner found himself homeless in Weymouth, Dorset.
For nine months in 2006, Mr Harvey slept in the freezing cold and would scour the streets looking for food.
After a while, he realised he didn’t have the strength to spend another freezing winter sleeping in the open – and he knew it was time to get help and rebuild his life.
He said: “After nine months of being homeless I had lost seven-and-a-half stone in weight. I realised I was heading into another winter – and I thought I better get out.
“I had connections with Ealing so decided to go back there and try and get help.
“I met a woman at the council who helped get me into a hostel – and that was the beginning of getting back to normality.”
Mr Harvey was introduced to a man who ran a driving school for ex-offenders.
The school was part of a charity that also ran a soup kitchen that collected food to make meals for the homeless.
Mr Harvey said: “As part of the driving school the ex-offenders had to do voluntary work, and my friend who taught them had a van.
“So as we had a vehicle and a work force I, and the ex-offenders, picked up waste food and redistributed it to the soup kitchen.”
He did that for four years, but then the charity, The Upper Room, stopped running the redistribution service in 2014.
By then Mr Harvey had built up the contacts he needed to run his own business.
He said: “I’d built up the contacts and I managed to get a donation of £5,000. I was hiring a van and doing my own redistribution but I managed to make that £5,000 last 14 months.
“I would ask some of the charities I dropped off at to make a small donation as well to cover some of the costs,” he said.
Gradually, Mr Harvey’s charity, Acton-based ‘City Harvest’, has grown from strength to strength since his early days of running the ship single-handedly.
Now he has a board of directors and a team of 21 volunteers – and his charity delivers two tonnes of surplus food from restaurants to charities in London every week.
Mr Harvey says he collects food from Nando’s, Morrison’s, Marks & Spencer and Gourmet Burger Kitchen.
He then redistributes it to the Salvation Army, St Mungo’s, Ealing, Soup Kitchen and many more charities – and has expanded to cover almost the whole of London.
He said: “This week I’ve been picking up surplus from Waitrose. Those Charlie Bigham ready meals that sell for £7 a shot – I picked up 350 of those, moussakas and fish pies.”
Mr Harvey said his charity is looking to grow even more and says kind donations have already supplied them with fridge and freezer vans.
And now City Harvest is on a fundraising drive so they can employ another driver, and get food delivered to even more people.