East Sussex is a 2-tier local authority area which does not have a county-level food partnership. However, the county council supports and funds the work being undertaken locally by the four district and borough level food partnerships, supporting a place-based approach, and has identified county-level mechanisms for food system transformation therefore combining short term action to address food insecurity with a long term approach to transforming the food system.
South Brockwells Farm Partnership runs a school programme for young people whose food element was funded for the winter from the Household Support Grant. Families receive meal kits and recipe cards on a weekly basis. Credit: Wealden Food Partnership
Coordination of response to food insecurity and strategic work at county level
Within the East Sussex Whole System Healthy Weight Plan, one of the priority areas is around food. One of the four key actions for this priority area was the establishment of food partnerships in each district and borough. East Sussex County Council (ESCC) funds food partnerships at borough and district level. During the COVID-19 pandemic, ESCC used a proportion of DEFRA’s Local Authority Emergency Assistance Grant for Food and Essential Supplies and additional funding from ESCC’s public health team’s COVID-19 recovery programmes to start funding food partnerships across the District and Boroughs in the county. Food partnerships are seen as the perfect vehicle for helping to respond to the food emergency but more importantly looking at food systems transformation. This funding, initially for one year, has been renewed for a subsequent two years and funds a coordinator in each of the four food partnerships.
More recently, ESCC has established a Multi-Agency Financial Inclusion Steering Group that brings together over 40 representatives from County, District and Borough Councils, VCSE organisations (including the food partnerships’ host organisations), NHS Sussex, DWP, Housing, Public Health, etc. It began during COVID-19 and has been recently re-established. The members come together monthly as a consultative, advisory and peer learning forum for cross-sectional sharing, planning and partnership working in all matters that involve financial inclusion.
An example of work that came out of the Multi-Agency Financial Inclusion Group, is the cost of living support hub on the ESCC website. This was a collaborative piece of work done at pace, that is being reviewed and updated regularly, which includes a section on food that signposts people to the food partnerships and local emergency food providers, as well as information on NHS Healthy Start.
ESCC have launched Winter Support Grants in collaboration with Sussex Community Foundation. These grants, up to £10K, are available to East Sussex not-for-profit organisations to support them to meet increased running costs such as salaries, heating or fuel; the recruitment and training of staff and volunteers to meet the increased demand for services from the community; and to adapt to provide new services and additional support such as warm spaces.
A community wellbeing crowdfunding project has recently been launched, providing the opportunity for five community projects working to create economic prosperity, social equity, cultural vitality or environmental sustainability.
Beyond the immediate response to food insecurity, ESCC commissioned Food Matters to identify county-level mechanisms for food system working, which supports the work being undertaken locally. The final report and recommendations were presented to the council at the end of 2022 and a project steering group was convened to explore next steps and maintain the current momentum and progress so far. One of the recommendations is to develop a business case for a Food Policy Officer, a role that is seen as an essential point of coordination, replicating the approach in Brighton and Hove and other local areas.
Community Supermarket in Peacehaven. Credit: Lewes District Food Partnership
The work of district and borough level food partnerships
Lewes District Food Partnership started to meet late in 2021 and launched publicly in October 2022 with a charter and food summit. It runs six working groups with one on emergency food bringing together the emergency food network composed of ten members including food banks, community supermarkets and other organisations. This working group meets monthly and lots of good work is ensuing, including a wide agreement around transitioning away from food banks into more sustainable and dignified-led forms of delivering support. A SFP participatory approach grant is helping to set up a new project called ‘Feeling the Pinch: Have Your Say’ which shall invite people with lived experiences of food poverty and food insecurity to share their stories which will feed into a ‘Truth Hearing’ attended by local policymakers. Lewes District Council declared a cost of living emergency in July 2022, earmarked funding to support action in this area and employs a Cost of Living Officer delivering work across Lewes and Eastbourne – a key post in the council to avoid food partnerships being overloaded with delivery and coordination. The district council convenes a cost of living crisis steering group and runs a safety net fund aimed at families on low income that didn’t qualify for government payments.
Ruby Makepeace-Somerville Coordinator of Lewes District Food Partnership says,
“We are fortunate to have a supportive local council and county council. Our local council has declared both a climate emergency and a Cost-of-Living-Crisis emergency but there’s a long way to go. 35 per cent of the UKs GHG emissions come from our food & drink sectors yet six out of ten councils are taking no significant or meaningful action and millions of people live in food poverty. We believe that collaboration between local food partnerships and the council can help us meaningfully address these and other key issues in our food system.”
Eastbourne Food Partnership started activity in 2019, it was housed by the local Voluntary Action organisation (3VA) since 2020 but transitioned into a CIC in October 2021. A vibrant steering group includes both County and Borough Council officer’s, the Councillor with remit on social welfare (who has become the lead on cost of living), alongside a community fridge leader, Salvation Army and growing groups. This is complemented by a Food Security Network group that brings together community fridges, other frontline VCSE organisations, creative arts groups, technology inclusion groups, growers and others. Eastbourne Council declared a cost of living emergency in May 2022, the first in the country to do so, and earmarked £250,000 which was distributed as small grants in the autumn of 2022. The food security network is focused on long term causes to food poverty rather than temporary relief and is looking at growing and cooking skills and poverty campaigning. This is reflected in the approach to the Household Support Fund: funding for immediate relief as well as laying out more long term approaches.
Hastings and Rother Food Network was set up by Hastings Voluntary Action in October 2020 following commissioning from Public Health. There was already an emergency food group operating in Hastings run by the Food Bank which had started during Covid and focused very much on immediate need, so the network became a way for wider food partners to engage and collaborate on a range of food related issues. After exploring various options for membership of national organisations, they chose to join Feeding Britain and they soon became one of the first South East partners to pilot Pathways from Poverty, a wrap-around support model developed by Feeding Britain as part of their work towards moving away from food bank dependency. The network played a key role in work with Rother District Council around tackling the skills shortage in the local hospitality and catering industries and have since forged strong relationships with local businesses and training providers to map training provision and link people to opportunities. The network is a balanced mix of local Councillors, NHS and Public Health representatives, local schools, community food projects and cafes, businesses, environmental organisations and relevant national stakeholders too.
The response to the cost of living crisis has been facilitated by Hastings Voluntary Action, working as a multi-partner (Hastings Borough Council, Food Bank, Citizens Advice Bureau, Heart, Age UK etc) mechanism to develop a Winter Readiness Plan, deliver Winter Readiness events and training and responding to need through projects such as pop up low cost cafes, co-ordination of food donations etc. Much of the learning which informed the cost of living planning came from similar ‘tried and tested’ approaches used during the Covid pandemic and these are showcased in our ‘Facing the Futures’ report.
Debby Anderson – Food Network Lead says,
“We are fortunate in Hastings and Rother to have many food partners who are innovative and passionate about the work that they do. The depth of the work of the food network throughout Covid, the cost of living crisis would not have happened without the infrastructure that the Public Health funding for food partnerships has provided. I look forward to seeing what else can be achieved in the future and am hopeful that we will be able to access further funding to support the co-ordination of the network.”
Wealden Food Partnership is comparatively less developed with a new Officer having started in October 2022 after a previous coordinator leaving mid-2022. Wealden has a high percentage of rural and isolated communities and the largest number of farms across the county. Time has been spent engaging with farmers across the area and talking to them about their issues, challenges and what benefits there might be to joining a local food partnership. This has proved successful with many farmers across the area showing a keen interest. The first session to revamp the partnership, agree a vision, and discuss key themes and issues will be held early March 2023 and will kick start a new mission statement, action plan and communications strategy. Twenty community organisations are currently engaged, including four foodbanks and community fridges, community cookery projects, growing networks and community allotments. Eight farms and estates are engaged, as well as six local authority teams, including Housing, Public Health and Waste Management. In parallel, Wealden District Council have developed resources on their website directing people to support during the current crisis, which includes emergency food provision across the Wealden area.
Nusrat Ghani, MP for Wealden said:
“I was pleased to learn more about the vision and aims of Wealden Food Partnership as it continues to progress and grow. There are so many fantastic farms in Wealden that not only provide fresh produce of the highest quality but also contribute a great deal to the community through education and job opportunities. While many farms and supermarkets already work in partnership with local community projects, it would be fantastic to bring them together under the Wealden Food Partnership to reduce food waste, support local food suppliers, increase awareness of locally grown produce and ensure that supermarket and farmer produce that is not viable for resale is not wasted, but instead distributed amongst people in need.”
Lunch club. Credit: Hastings Voluntary Action
Household Support Fund
ESCC have given discretionary grants to each of the Emergency Food Providers across the county to support running and purchasing costs. More broadly, the county council is working with the district and boroughs and VCSE partners to distribute the HSF, in line with the criteria set out by the Department of Work and Pensions.
As part of the HSF, the local food partnerships have been allocated funding to run three separate rounds of Small Grants Programmes to allocate funding to smaller projects tackling food poverty. Each round of grants is £20K in total per area.
Lewes District Food Partnership has used the Small Grants Programme to fund recipe bag projects at food banks, community growing projects and community cafes, as well funding a slow cooker donation scheme and the purchase of fruit and healthy snacks for young children at a nursery. They launched Round 3 of the Small Grants Programme in the first quarter of 2023. In addition, Lewes District Council have used HSF funding to distribute vouchers to residents to help towards the essential costs of food and energy bills. Working closely with the food partnership offers the district council the benefit of connection with frontline organisations and feedback on how well their support is working on the ground. In a previous round of HSF, Lewes District Council offered vouchers to help residents meet increased energy and food costs, via an online application. After a consultation among food bank users in the emergency food network, it became clear that digital exclusion is much higher than the average and many were cautious of applying online due to previous fraud scares. This feedback was promptly shared by the food partnership and since then, the local council has introduced a phone line.
There has been a similar approach in Eastbourne. The second round of grants was run in November 2022. The panel responsible for deciding the allocation included the partnership coordinator, the director of the food partnership, a district council officer and the chief executive of the food bank. The small grants programme created lots of interesting questions about the activity of food partnership i.e. how to provide support and what projects the partnership can endorse. Alongside dignified support, food hygiene and safeguarding are non-negotiable for every project that is funded.
In Hastings and Rother, the food partnership adopted a slightly different approach in rounds two and three. In round two, the focus for grant applications was on physical food spaces. In round three, they took this a step further and rather than administer a grants programme, the funding was split down the middle, half for Rother and half for Hastings. A working group met for each borough, identified where they could make the most impact and funds were spent accordingly. This enabled the funding of a pilot mobile pantry to get food supplies to rural areas. The demand from this pilot has led to Feeding Britain funding a mobile social supermarket which will cover Kent, Rother area In East Sussex. Other initiatives included a food donation programme by St Michael’s Hospice over the Christmas months with food then distributed to local food projects and warm spaces through the food network. The Grumpy Cook Hastings has held pop up low cost cafes throughout Hastings and Rother. Network members also offered free cooked meals at Form Filling Friday session in Hastings aimed at supporting older people who were not digitally connected to make online applications for grants and financial assistance from the HSF.
In Wealden, 25 grants have been awarded as part of rounds two and three to a range of community organisations, farms and growing projects. Projects funded included activities and healthy food at a holiday activities and food (HAF) programme for children on free school meals; freshly made soups and food to take home at warm places; locally sourced food boxes distributed at foodbanks over the Christmas and New Year period; support to farms working with vulnerable children on their farm school to provide recipe kits for the families to cook together at home, to provide boxes for older people in their communities, as well as fresh produce for their local food banks and community fridges. The fund also supported all three foodbanks and all the community fridges to provide additional capacity through the winter months. The food partnership worked with network members and council teams in Housing, HAF, Wellbeing, Children’s Services, Adult Learning and others to distribute information encouraging groups to request funding where they have identified need. This ensured a wide distribution and representative use of the funds across the district.
Diversifying sources of food and funding and developing sustainable retail models
One of the main aims of the Lewes District Food Partnership, shared by the other food partnerships, is to move beyond food banks to community minded projects that provide other services, reduce stigma and isolation. There are several alternative projects redistributing food including two community supermarkets, a food waste hub in Newhaven, three community fridges and a number of community cafés. The next round of small grants will aim to promote partnership between projects. For example, a food bank partnering with an allotment or community growing space. This will promote sharing skills and resources, and diversification of food sources. Lewes District Food Partnership is working on engaging the MP Maria Caulfield who is interested in national approaches such as a Food Bill and supporting increased uptake of NHS Healthy Start. The emergency food network ran a joint appeal over the Christmas period raising over £6K which was distributed among the projects.
In Eastbourne, the foodbank activity is coordinated by Trussell Trust. Whilst they are interested in the dignity element, they are not working to transition to other models. Nevertheless, there is a growing network of community fridges that have a similar operation as community supermarkets whereby customers can buy ten items for £2 as well as a thriving community kitchen. Finding sources of surplus and other food for local projects is essential given that FareShare Sussex are not accepting new members. Through a SFP good food movement grant, the food partnership is looking at alternative supply chains and linking up community growing projects to the affordable food projects. New projects in the pipeline for 2023 include a Grow a Row project to encourage allotments and community gardens to grow extra food to donate, and a community supermarket in a primary school. The local MP Caroline Ansell supported the food partnership over the summer of 2022 to ensure community gardens were exempted from the hosepipe ban and is interested in protecting peri urban land for growing.
In Hastings, The Repton Trust, a partner of the food network, recently employed a new Food Rescue Worker whose remit is to work with farms, growers, businesses and other less well known food suppliers to access surplus food following dwindling of supplies from usual sources such as Fareshare. Transition Town in Hastings act as a sub-group of the food network for local growing initiatives and for orchard planting. Network partners are currently involved in discussions with the Council in Hastings to ask that housing providers are obligated to make land available for growing and allotments and this has now been written into the Local Plan.
Wealden covers a large geographical area of East Sussex, where residents identify with the town or village and not necessarily with the district. As a result, the food partnership may develop smaller food networks, making it easier to address supply chains, alternative models to food aid and food surplus shortages. The foodbanks in the area either deliver or work closely with community fridges and other models of support, in line with the principles being developed as part of the Dignity in Food Charter. Farms have reported surplus of produce in their fields that they can donate but need support to pick and distribute. This will be addressed through developing local networks and links with the Sussex Gleaning Network. Work with Open Food Network is in the cards, to help develop shorter supply chains locally.
Nancy Wilson, Eastbourne Food Partnership firstname.lastname@example.org
Debby Anderson, Hastings and Rother Food Network, email@example.com
Ruby Makepeace-Somerville, Lewes District Food Partnership, firstname.lastname@example.org
Helen Graham, Wealden Food Partnership, Helen.Graham@3va.org.uk
Anna Card, East Sussex County Council, email@example.com