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Community sector provides rapid response to food insecurities

Voluntary sector organisations from the South West have launched a report revealing the impact of their collaboration on vulnerable communities.

The Food Insecurities Report, completed by Rose Regeneration demonstrates the importance of collaboration in the pandemic.

The report was prepared for the Voluntary and Community Sector Emergencies Partnership (VCSEP SW) and is intended to support the move away from emergency and towards recovery, in a space where ‘business as usual’ will not be an option for many communities.

Key features of lived experience

  • An inability to build and draw on financial safety nets - low-paid work, zero-hours contracts, mixed self-employment/salaried work, and/or work in unpredictable sectors left people financially exposed under Covid-19

  • Caring responsibilities which limited income potential and raised outgoings - particularly but not only for women and single parents.

  • Health and mental health challenges - 70% were experiencing chronic health issues prior to Covid-19; 65% long-term mental health issues.

  • Elimination of social food sharing - many had previously counted on meals with others (e.g. a family Sunday roast) to stretch their weekly food budgets.

  • People struggling to afford supermarket delivery fees - e.g., if isolating; c.£4-£6 for grocery delivery is a big percentage of a £25/£30 weekly food budget.

  • Reduced access to ‘budget’ shops and not being able to ‘bargain shop’ - the inability to reliably access preferred supermarkets increased costs.

  • Increased competition for ‘value’ and ‘budget’ brands - cheaper items were often already taken by others, leaving only expensive branded items.

  • Price increases by shops which charged more for basics when Covid-19 hit.

  • People relying on others to help with food shopping - but feeling too ashamed to dictate brand choices or supermarket choice, raising spend

A positive example is the Cornwall VSF Food Access Alliance. The Alliance has created a networking forum for food banks, community larders, distribution orgs and community growers to collaborate. This level of collaboration ensures that support (through donations and food surplus) is maximised and redistributed to those people/communities where there is demand. Insights from on the ground help contribute to the overall Food Security strategy. Cornwall VSF shares this with multiple stakeholders locally and nationally to advocate for a more sustainable food strategy for all. Helen Boardman, CEO of Cornwall Voluntary Sector Forum said, “The response to the pandemic here has been phenomenal. There are possibly too many community organisations to mention, for fear of missing some out. What these demonstrate is that it an emergency, we can rely on communities.” Key findings of the report:

  1. The voluntary and community sector has played a central role in the local food response to the Covid-19 crisis.

  2. Whilst the nature of the response in each locality reflects the geography, demographics and capacity of each area, there are key common themes.

  3. The Covid-19 crisis has allowed new approaches to develop quickly, with VCS organisations often having increased agency to make decisions and shape approaches within cross-sector partnerships.

  4. The challenge now is to ensure that local food strategies move effectively from emergency response to providing sustainable support that links to wider agendas around poverty, health, and local sustainability.

Future approaches should be based on a clear, evidenced understanding of need at a local level Robyn Knox VCSEP Director said, “This report supports the vital inclusion of voluntary and community sector organisations in building a resilient society. It also highlights how existing social inequalities can so easily be exacerbated in an emergency situation. We hope to see more inclusion of the voluntary and community sector in local resilience building and in influencing and co-creating positive health outcomes for all.”

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