Edinburgh's local response to Covid-19

Edinburgh’s public sector, food organisations and local groups have all come together to help tackle the COVID-19 crisis.

Credit: Edinburgh Community Food

Edible Edinburgh is the city’s food partnership. Members of the partnership, including Nourish Scotland, Edinburgh Food Social, Edinburgh Community Food, The City of Edinburgh Council, University of Edinburgh and Edinburgh College are all contributing to the local response in the city during this crisis. Edible Edinburgh is a city-wide partnership that works to inspire and motivate everyone across Edinburgh to work together to build new approaches to food. We believe that together we can make positive choices that are healthier and tastier, and which bring social, economic and environmental benefits to the whole community.

Coordinating the city’s response to COVID-19

Edinburgh’s emergency food response at community level is being co-ordinated by the newly established Food for Good Coalition, mirroring other Food for Good coalitions in other Scottish cities including Glasgow and Aberdeen. Initial community level emergency food relief efforts were coordinated by Edible Edinburgh partners. Edinburgh Food Social reached out to their network of chefs, delivery drivers and community projects along with workers in other areas, such as communications and funding. From this, the Food for Good Coalition was established. The Coalition is a group of industry professionals working together to cook and distribute free meals to those in need across the city with the intent being the provision of healthy, varied and nutritionally balanced food to communities in a dignified manner. The original coalition consisted of Edinburgh Food Social, Nourish Scotland, Slow Food Scotland, Nourishing Change and Edinburgh Food Festival. This has evolved over time to be more representative of what people and organisations were able to bring to the table. Priorities were identified through an evaluation of what was needed with the core principles of community, dignity and sustainability running through all action.  An initial challenge was the co-ordination of a joint response with national and local government. This included access to funding and identification of those falling through the cracks of traditional service provision. 

The City of Edinburgh Council and Edinburgh Council for Voluntary Services (EVOC) established a formal partnership to distribute food and other essential items to Edinburgh’s most vulnerable citizens.  This food distribution network was created from Edinburgh’s £1.65 million share of the Scottish Government’s Food Fund. The Council is responsible for identifying those in need and qualifying for food deliveries and other essential items, and EVOC organises distribution and delivery. Scottish Government guidelines on eligibility is followed, with categories including low income families, families with children eligible for school meals, older people and those with long term health conditions. The funding is in addition to the ongoing support for the wider third sector through the Scotland-wide £350m charity support fund.  A volunteering system has also been established with Volunteer Edinburgh and EVOC to coordinate volunteering across the Council and the city.

Many organisations across the city are providing food, including those who have shifted their purpose to support people with the most immediate priorities. A Council Team has been established to work with established and newly created community groups to help them maximise the amount of money they can access from national grant funding sources through Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and other bodies. There are significant amounts of money that can be leveraged into the city to support these groups through this route.

The Council set aside £50,000 to help these organisations with any immediate needs they might have in relation to cash flow problems or to help them be in a position to access larger pots of money from national funds. Potential gaps are also being identified and the Council is working with partner organisations to ensure all particular needs are met.

Securing food for vulnerable people

The Council and EVOC are coordinating the delivery of food parcels for shielded or clinically vulnerable people, as well as administering emergency funds. Letters have been sent to individuals subject to shielding and essential items including food and medicines are being delivered. Arrangements are in place for other categories of vulnerable people to ensure their food needs are being met. Initially the Council received 200-250 enquiries daily from people phoning the national assistance helpline, 15% of which were requests for food or food distribution and 10% were in relation to accessing supermarket delivery slots. 2,000 emergency food parcels are being delivered daily to families who have been identified as being most in need. Food parcels include recipes and food safety information. Financial payments have been provided and paid directly into the bank accounts of families whose children are in receipt of free school meals.

The key theme within the city’s community food response is to think local, act local and to encourage people to be good neighbours. These local connections help to maintain communications and access to other critical services people may need at this time, such as mental wellbeing, waste and energy reduction and physical activities. The Food for Good Coalition operates on four tiers, depending on what support people need and how they have been referred:

Tier One: Supporting Partner Organisations – working with distribution organisations to supply prepared meals for the people who need them across the Edinburgh postcodes.

Tier Two: Local / Community Drop-offs – supporting local and community aid organisers who have a network of people in their area who need meals delivered.

Tier Three: Emergency Door to Door Distribution and Signposting - an emergency ‘one off’ distribution for individual households including a follow-up to understand what type of ongoing food support they might need.

Tier Four: Regular Support: For those who might require longer term or more regular support, Food for Good operate their own regular deliveries of nourishing food across the week.

In addition, the coalition works with local projects and distribution hubs who already know their communities well and also receives direct referrals from the City of Edinburgh Council via EVOC. The coalition has no strict criterion for people needing access to food and operates on a trust system – everyone has the right to nutritious food irrespective of geography or income.

Edinburgh Community Food

Edible Edinburgh partner Edinburgh Community Food, (ECF) are a city-wide charity and social enterprise that delivers fresh fruit and vegetables to homes and businesses across the city with profits feeding back into their charity work. The organisation is also one of the leading providers of food, health and nutrition programmes at the community level in Edinburgh.

Edinburgh Community Food is one of the many community organisations working with EVOC to deliver food to the city’s most vulnerable people. EVOC contact Edinburgh Community Food with a list of referrals and requirements and the organisation prepares a veg box that can be tailored to the needs of each request. The boxes consist of fresh fruit and vegetables, other essentials such as bread, eggs and milk, recipe information, additional food items from Fareshare and also sanitary products where needed. This service is resourced through the Council’s share of the Scottish Government Food Fund.

Edinburgh Community Food is a well established provider of dignified food access across the city and also provides an Essential Food Box to local partner organisations which are distributed to the most vulnerable within their communities. Edinburgh Community Food have actively sourced and provided other essential items such as pet food, fridge thermometers and hygiene products. Work is underway to consult with BAME communities to provide a Variety Food Box that represents their cultural dietary preferences. The organisation’s ‘Pay it Forward’ scheme has helped many families who are experiencing financial hardship for the first time. The Best Start Food Box is directly linked to the needs of young families with fun activities in the boxes to support healthier food choices in the future. Furthermore, the organisation has developed a programme of food related activities, with food and equipment provision for the many families that would normally be attending the city-wide Council led Discover! Holiday Provision Programme. This ensures families are staying connected to essential services during school closures.

Supporting the food supply chain and diverse food outlets

The Food for Good Coalition has a Sustainability Working Group who try to ensure purchasing from Scottish producers and suppliers wherever possible, using a hierarchy of purchasing to ensure they minimise environmental harm and maximise impact on the local economy. To try to minimise contact points they use local hubs and delivery services, plus some door-to-door.  The coalition are currently trialling a cargo bike service to minimise pollution, carbon and support local business and they expect all of their Tier 3 provision to be delivered this way in the coming weeks.

Markets in the city have temporarily closed following discussions with Police Scotland and the Council. Although they have not been asked to close the decision has been made to prioritise people’s safety. Following contact with the City Council Edinburgh Farmers’ Market re-opened over the weekend of 4th July. There are also online directories of producers that are delivering to support local food businesses. In addition, the Edible Edinburgh website has an updated page of support services and information which includes support for businesses and signposting to other relevant resources.

Funding the community response

Scottish Government funding of £1.65 million from the Food Fund has been provided to support Edinburgh's response to the COVID-19 outbreak. A dedicated website has been set up for people to contact the Council and Council Resilience Centres have been established in all parts of the city to pool local resources and target support for those who are most vulnerable. These centres provide support for people who require access to emergency assistance with urgent homelessness, urgent cash payments and harassment cases where imminent and real threat exists. A dedicated team provides support and safe places for those experiencing homelessness in the city, including use of hotels and halls of residence, and provision of food and care packages. Council teams providing welfare advice, handling claims for benefits and support for citizens and businesses have been expanded. A commitment has been made that no Council tenant will lose their home during this emergency.

The Food for Good Coalition has a funding team and their work is supported through their crowdfunder, which was quickly established in the early days. Simon Kenton-Lake from Food for Good Coalition reflects, “Everyone in the core team has a different set of skills and experiences, some complimentary and others unique, and we operate a horizontal structure. It has been an exceptionally pressured time and unfortunate that the voluntary sector had to set up their own emergency infrastructure to provide for those in food insecurity. However, although the pandemic has been disastrous for so many people, I hope that we can use the learnings as an opportunity to reset and to build a resilient food system for the long path ahead”.

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