Sofia Parente, Sustainable Food Places Campaign Coordinator, reflects on the recent Day of Celebration and Action which acknowledged the amazing work of food partnerships during the Covid-19 food crisis. The 10th June 2020 brought to light the vital role of food partnerships and why they should be part of the fabric of every local area.
Whilst the government was quick to identify 2.2 million clinically vulnerable as eligible for food parcel deliveries, thousands of low-income Britons fell through the cracks and soon found that emergency responses had left them behind. Empty supermarket shelves, food shortages and oversubscribed online delivery services soon compounded the isolation. Covid-19 exposed weaknesses in our food system that left the financially vulnerable behind, but local food partnerships have been showing us other ways are possible. Local food partnerships have effectively identified thousands of people not formally recognised as clinically vulnerable but still in need of food and fresh meals, such as those on low incomes, children eligible for free school meals and non-shielded people still needing to self-isolate due to older age or medical risks. Communities, councils and local businesses came together to ensure continued supply of healthy, local food to those most in need. But this continued access to fresh and healthy food to vulnerable communities will be difficult to maintain without a centralised recognition and support for these local initiatives.
Now that the lockdown is easing, Sustainable Food Places and its network of local food partnerships are calling on central government to recognise and support the vital work of food partnerships. The fear is that the gradual easing of the lockdown and a return to “business as usual” may mean that current support for emergency systems in place, including local council responses and government food parcels will progressively ease off, whilst the demand for food from vulnerable people will remain.
Sustainable Food Places appealed directly to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government to explore these local efforts further and wrote to the Secretary of State Robert Jenrick asking Government to recognise this vital work of local food partnerships during Covid-19 and to support one food partnership in every local area in the UK. The letter was supported by over 40 public health, food and farming organisations, including Fareshare, Royal Society for Public Health, Councillors and Directors of Public Health, as well as academics and campaigners including Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, Professor Tim Lang and Jeanette Orrey MBE.
This direct appeal to Government was one part of the Day of Celebration and Action which also included members contacting their MPs to highlight their local efforts and a celebration of the vital role of food partnerships happening on twitter under #goodfoodtogether #foodpartnership. While we pursue a response from the Secretary of State, the work celebrated by food partnerships highlights the vital role they play to feed people not just in this crisis but to build a better food future.
In Cambridge, for example, the local food partnerships highlighted the start of an innovative Healthy Start fruit and veg box to those receiving Healthy Start vouchers. In exchange for Healthy Start vouchers and £2, Cambridge Food Hub and the Cambridge Organic Food Company will deliver a weekly box of fresh fruit and veg alongside tips and recipes to inspire people to cook and make the most of their boxes. In Leeds, the local food partnership highlighted their campaign to promoting uptake of Healthy Start vouchers in East Leeds and promoting local retailers. Merton celebrated the local Community Fridge Network, a network of food distribution hubs that are a lifeline to residents. And in Cardiff, the partnership celebrated the work of partners during lockdown to encourage residents to grow their own food. The collective effort of organisations across Cardiff resulted in 14,000 plants and seed packs delivered to thousands of Cardiff households!
Others have highlighted the role of campaigns to build a better food future. Edinburgh, for example celebrated their collaboration with Open Seas to ensure fish served across the city is sourced sustainably and does not endanger the biodiversity in our oceans.
Many other examples were shared during the day with over 500 posts from partners discussing the Day of Celebration and Action, and hashtags #foodpartnership and #goodfoodtogether garnering almost 1,800,000 and 530,000 Twitter engagements respectively. We will continue to pursue support to one food partnership in every local area next to the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government and in other arenas such as the National Food Strategy.
The work of food partnerships is vital at all times, not just during a crisis.
‘We put ourselves at the centre to join up the dots’- these words from the Brighton and Hove Food Partnership coordinator ring true to describe the role of food partnerships everywhere in the country. Local food partnerships bring together the public sector, civil society, businesses and community members to work together to create a better food system. Taking a joined-up approach within a local area allows partnerships to address a wide range of food issues and helps elevate the profile of food in the public and political agenda, as well as attracting funding for local initiatives, reducing duplication of work and improving collaboration.
If you don’t whether there is a local food partnership in your area or what they do, there's never been a better time to find out and get involved. Find a local food partnership, sign up to the Sustainable Food Places newsletter and get in touch to find out how your local area can become a member.
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