If you look at the definition of a Community Food Hub it describes a number of different elements that are social, environmental and commercial. Within the Octopus Network St Luke’s Community Centre offers an excellent example of a Community Food Hub as they have within their transformed building a combination of socially driven enterprises. In January 2020 three more of the community centres embarked upon a journey to develop a Community Food Hub model that reflected the needs of their community. In February, our StayWell, Live Well project launched with a focus on engaging in community-led activities that focused on Mood Food as a means on tackling food poverty, along with overcoming isolation through wide-ranging neighbourhood activities. We could never have imagined what we were to face in March and how rapidly we were able to swiftly respond to an emerging crisis.
In June, a rapid review of food poverty in Islington was undertaken and highlights what has happened both locally and nationally. The review cites that the number of people in crisis has escalated, and new groups are experiencing food poverty for the first time. Further, that health inequalities have increased as a result of Covid-19 control measures, and needs are likely to increase as people face financial hardship.
Reasons for needing support have evolved during the period of lockdown – the initial need was for people who were shielding, but the focus is now on supporting those unable to afford sufficient food.
According to Islington’s Food Poverty Action Plan the level of need in Islington relating to food poverty and food insecurity. In Islington, 47.5% of children in the Borough are living in poverty. Estimates from research figures indicate that over 19,000 people in Islington experience moderate or high levels of food insecurity. The food poverty needs assessment carried out (2017) gave graphic descriptions of local residents’ experiences of food poverty…these ranged from long-term food insecurity to severe crisis level hunger, which have negative impacts on health, wellbeing and quality of life. The Action Plan also highlights emerging trend for those ‘shocked’ or ‘squeezed’ in to food poverty … there is no doubt that many have experienced being ‘shocked’ into food poverty as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.
As a network, we are now looking into how we can influence the development of a local food infrastructure, by looking at developing Community Food Hubs, but also Food CoOps. As a Network we are keen to explore Food CoOps and are now exploring both lived experience and literature to look at models that:
As a result of the Covid-19 crisis, overall, we are not only capturing lessons learned and effective practice, we are developing systems and tools for information and data management, so that if we are faced with a second wave of Covid-19, our response will not only be swift, it will be robust. As part of our exit strategy from the crisis we are crafting community food hub models that fit with the ‘new normal’. We are working with residents and statutory services to ensure that everyone has access to the wrap-around support that they need. And, with support from the London Community Response fund, we’ve been able to sustain the food poverty response, but also address impact to our infrastructure. Plans for re-opening community centres to the public is not without challenges, so our weekly check-in meetings will continue to dedicate time to sharing information and share good practice solutions.
Julie Parish, Network Development