Grassroots leaders from across the country zoomed together to discuss food action at our latest workshop. Supported by a brilliant bunch of key speakers, our discussions ranged from the immediate challenges faced by vulnerable communities to the long-term culture shift required to build food resilience.
Here are some of our key takeaways:
Right now, we’re facing the challenges of protecting our food supplies, getting frontline workers fed and shielding vulnerable communities from food insecurity. So where do you start if you have one foodbank and a city full of people to consider?
- Make the most of what you already have in place. That could be anything from a professional kitchen to a growing space, a delivery van to a local Facebook group. It could also be a stakeholder relationship – whether with the beneficiaries or supporters of your work.
- Collaboration is king. Get in touch with other community organisations in your area to find the gaps in existing provision and access the people who need your support. Then reach out to other initiatives doing similar work for advice on tried and tested approaches.
- Volunteers are raring to go. Offer as many as possible the chance to get involved. And make the most of them. They might be organisational whizzes or heavy lifting pros. Ask them for their skillset and use it. Remember to reach out to your local council for PPE needs.
- Empower people whenever possible. When giving free food to low income families be considerate by framing your offer as community food sharing. Also try to communicate with beneficiaries through the pre-existing, trusted relationships they might have with other community initiatives.
- Be responsive. The situation is changing all the time. A month ago, food insecurity was hitting the physically vulnerable hardest. By now the financially vulnerable – whether families or food businesses – require support.
Going forward, we need to learn from the cities where existing food networks allowed for rapid crisis response. And we need to build on the partnerships created between councils and community groups to ensure that our food system is resilient, sustainable and compassionate in the long term.
- We’ll be opening up again before long. Community groups that are reliant on income will be relieved to be able to get back to business. But remember to prepare for socially distanced dining and reduced customers. You’ll want to make the most of outdoor spaces and take shops online wherever possible.
- Let’s change habits. Crisis is a catalyst for change so let’s use this moment to repair the problems in the food system from production to distribution and preparation. This is the stuff of system change but also individual action. You can make change happen by working with local and independent food producers, teaching simple and healthy cooking methods and encouraging a culture of regularly coming together around meals.
- Community groups have led the way in this crisis. Government has relied on and learnt from grassroots knowledge and networks. You can now use that proof of value to lobby for investment in the community sector.
- Celebration and food go together. Use that fact to make sure that the work you do meets not only the nutritional need of the individual, but the wider family and neighbourhood need for connection.
The challenges we’re facing today are acute but they’re not new. Most of the grassroots leaders who contributed at our food workshop had been working in community-based food action long before coronavirus was a household word. With that in mind we hope that you can use some of this hard earned knowledge to meet the needs of today. And remember, always keep an eye on future demands and opportunities for change.
Special thanks to our key speakers Aine from Bristol Food Union, Kemi from Brixton Peoples’ Kitchen and Be Enriched and Eloise and Barny from Square Food Foundation.
Coming up in our workshop series: volunteer management, emotional resilience and futureproofing your funding. To be the first to know about these as well as funding opportunities, sign up to the Semble network.
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