Case Study:
The Launch Project

Fuelling Communities


The Full Story.

The Launch Project evolved from 2017 when Natalie Lek decided to make free Christmas dinners for those in need. “I thought it would be 10 people, but it was 70, and then it doubled, then got to a thousand.”

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What challenges was your business facing at the time of your funding application?

Those struggling with food poverty were often hidden in the community – single parents, people who lost jobs, the elderly.

“The community needed a mobile food bank, so I found a transit van for refrigerated food which was £2,100. I used the last part of my student loan to buy the van.”

She contacted Gregg’s, asked about its unsold food, and took on five volunteers to collect 400 food items a week.

With no money, relying on volunteers and free food, but rising demand, Natalie was relieved to find Key Fund.

Key Fund gave a £12,831 loan and £2,169 grant in July 2019 to pay for salaries and working capital. Natalie had a business plan, introducing small charges, starting at £3.50 for a week’s shopping.

The Launch Project feeds
5,000 people each month
and delivers food to up to 27
houses every day

“I wanted to get away from stigma. You can have a £40k job in July and lose it and not have money coming in for six weeks, so by September you are food broke.

People already feel bad they’ve lost their job and being made to prove you’re struggling makes it worse.”

Then Covid hit.

“Covid has been horrific for the community, it’s damaged a lot of people’s mental health, but it’s put us in a position where we can help more.”

Demand tripled.

“It left us very strained as it was myself and a few volunteers. We haven’t really stopped.”

As a new business, they couldn’t use furlough so depended on grants and trading. Their community kitchens ensured they were quick to respond, taking on referrals from local agencies, and offering free emergency food packs.

“People appreciate us and are more aware. One chap came in and burst into tears saying he didn’t know what to do – he had no food, hadn’t eaten in three days and no money – and said he felt so humiliated. I sat him down, made him a cup of tea and gave him an emergency food pack, and said when you get money, join our Pantry, it’s £3.50 a week for all this food. He came back with the money, a card thanking us, and he now volunteers with us.”

Now, they turnover 27,000 food items a month.

The Launch Project moved into its own charity shop in October 2020, with a commercial kitchen upstairs. It provides free hot meals, as well as healthy takeaway.

It feeds 5,000 people each month and delivers food to up to 27 houses every day, as well as a click and collect option.

Loan: £12,831
Grant: £25,419
Total invested: £23,250

How has the Pandemic impacted your business and local community?

“I was nervous, because we were running on a couple of hundred pounds a month. Key Fund had a chat and sat me down and did the paperwork and it was amazing. I thought it would be like going to the bank, but it was nothing like that. It was a real person sat in front of me listening to what I was doing and why I wanted to do it, who said, actually that’s a really good idea.

“The Key Fund money was critical. Considering the position we were in then, and now, it’s down to the Key Fund.”

Natalie Lek


Natalie Lek

A Mancunian soul-mate to Erin Brockovich,
Natalie Lek is an advocate for poverty relief.


Using personal funds, the 41-year-old began her Community Interest Company, The Launch Project, in 2018 in Salford, during the second year of her law degree.

“I used to be a PA for multiple businesses so I’m good with time management,” Natalie explained. “I also have five children that I raised as a single mum.”

Natalie is passionate about mental health.

“We’re more than a foodbank. We recently launched our own well-being and wellness portal, which allows 400 homes to access free mental health and well-being support. That costs us less than £200 per month after some tough negotiations.”

Part of her motivation for studying law is to provide free legal advice to families fleeing domestic abuse.

She’s also completed Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP) training and has written The Unicorn Project series of children’s books to help explain abuse in an age-appropriate way, with the support of a child psychologist.

“As someone whose been through abusive relationships, it’s taken me a long time to be nice to myself, be kind to myself, and recognise that things that happened are not my fault. In Covid, the rate of domestic abuse has soared, with perpetrators stuck in homes with victims and children at home, not in school, there’s a real urgency.”

Natalie feels their ever-expanding services will be needed even more in the future.

“If I had my way, I’d have a Launch Project in every county.”

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