Brian Stormont reveals how a partnership with the Co-op’s Food Share scheme provides a lifeline for many people in our communities.
Community larders in the north-east have struck up partnerships with the Co-op which will see their patrons enjoy fresh produce that would have otherwise been bound for the waste bin.
The Haven in Stonehaven has joined forces with the stores in Market Square and David Street as part of the Co-op’s Food Share initiative.
Also benefiting from the scheme are the Community Pantry in Brechin and the Mearns Larder in Laurencekirk.
Food Share sees Co-op’s stores give products that are close to their sell-by date to local community groups at the end of each day to prevent food waste.
To date, the Co-op has given away more than 4.6 million meals to not-for-profit groups by donating items to community groups rather than the food ending up in the bin.
The food that groups receive varies depending on what’s available on the day, although donations are bakery, fresh fruit and vegetables and also some fresh meat and chilled products.
Local element key
He said: “Co-op invested in 1,500 roles as pioneers across the whole of the UK and, as part of my role as a member pioneer, I am a ‘catalyst communicator’ and try to make a great impact for the local Co-op in the area with sub-sector not for profit community groups.
“One of the main initiatives across the UK is about food waste and the Co-op have been very strong in trying to promote ways of donating the food that has gone past its shelf life but is still fine to use.
“I had made a connection with The Haven when it first started up and I encouraged them to move from just being a wellbeing centre to have a larder because the Covid period had started when we were looking for responses to that.”
Accessible to all
Community larders, such as The Haven, are fully accessible to all and it is widely used by the people of Stonehaven.
Stewart explained: “There has been a rise in community larders rather than foodbanks which have a different ethos as you know. Anyone can use the larder, you can go in you can take, you can donate.
“It breaks down the barriers that you have to be in dire straits before you can access these services. If you’re short of something one day you can take it, but then you can donate the next.
“Fresh food is the biggest thing. We are throwing away too much and therefore it was great to have that link-up and it’s great now to increase that partnership.
“We were doing it one day a week from the big store and that’s now going to go to two days a week because they have people taking the food which is great, and we have a daily collection from our smaller store in Market Square.
“So already the profile of The Haven and their facilities is hitting the mark with the local people of Stonehaven.”
The Haven’s director and founder, Julia Morton, said although their involvement in Co-op’s Food Share is in its infancy, it has been well received and contributed to more than 650 people coming through their doors last month to a service that feels more like a shop than a foodbank.
She said: “We have only just started doing the Food Share programme recently because we didn’t have chillers before.
“Previously we operated as a not for profit community wellbeing space in a yoga studio and it was such a shame for it to be empty when we still had to pay rent so we transformed it into a community food larder which is a completely different model to a foodbank.
“The community larder gives people the opportunity to choose their own food which is really important. It has a lot to do with dignity and reducing food stigma.
“We were really lucky we gifted two chillers by the ARCHIE Foundation who had the Tempo Café in the Bon Accord Centre, so when they decided they weren’t running it anymore they gave us the two chillers which has allowed us to reduce food waste in our community.
“It seemed ridiculous that there was so much food being wasted in the community when there were people who could use that food.”
And that food is going benefiting people in the local community who really need it.
“We need to make sure that we can use the food as we take responsibility for the disposal of it. We had 675 people last month using the food larder who we call visitors rather than users because we want it to be like a shop,” added Julia.
“It is set up very differently to other food insecurity organisations because when you walk in it does feel like a shop.
“What we were finding was that there people who had previous experience with food insecurities, who were on benefits say, were already on the radar and, if anything, their income slightly improved because they received additional funding from the government.
“But what we did find was a lot of people in the community who had no previous experience of food insecurity, and there was a lot of anxiety around that, so how could we make accessing food safe and comfortable so that there was no judgment attached to it was the question?
“No one leaves the larder with their hands empty so even if you come along with a donation when you leave, even if you don’t need it, you take something so you are giving someone else permission to come and take too.”
Making meals plan
Looking to the future, Julia’s vision sees The Haven moving in to utilising the items that are donated to create meals for needy folk in the community.
“It would be great if we had a kitchen and I am sure there are lots of council buildings in the area with kitchens that aren’t being used. I would love to get to the stage where we could use more of the food waste that is thrown out in our community every day to actually turn into meals to feed the community, then in turn give young people the employability to do that,” she revealed.
“We have a great strategic vision, but we don’t have the resources to do that.”
It’s really just the beginning as we have now applied to become a Co-op Community Cause and hopefully fingers crossed we will find out about that in October.
Julia Morton, director, The Haven.
And she had praise for the role Stewart Aitken played in getting them involved.
“We wanted to work locally and that’s when the Co-op, which is really the only place you can access food, that is where Stewart stepped in and was pretty good at being progressive and approaching us,” continued Julia.
The Community Pantry, Brechin
And membership pioneer for the areas, Kathy Calderwood, said both link-ups have been absolutely key during the recent coronavirus pandemic when items that could have gone to food waste were vital.
“I was a trustee and chairperson of the Brechin Community Pantry who are not a foodbank, but a pantry where you self-refer. You don’t need to have a bit of paper.
“We don’t just had out food parcels, we hand out food that people need and what is relevant to diets but also help for a number of people in ages and stages throughout the household.”
“Last year I signed up the Pantry for Food Share at the Co-op in Brechin and also the Salvation Army in Brechin as well so over the seven days the two outlets receive the food waste.
“The pantry has the capacity with commercial fridges and freezers so is able to freeze a number of the items so it doesn’t have to be that what we get one night is handed out and that is that. It can be distributed on other days because they have the ability to freeze items. Therefore the food goes longer and further.”
As well as utilising Food Share, there a number of other initiatives going on in the background all to help local people who had perhaps fallen on hard times through no fault of their own.
“During Covid, in partnership with Voluntary Action Angus we supported Montrose and we had over 100 client files which equated to around 230 people that we were feeding every week,” revealed Kathy.
“People in Brechin are fabulous, they are so generous, they always have been and they continue to be.
“During lockdown we actually set up a PayPal account as people who would ordinarily had in donations weren’t able to, didn’t know how to get money into us and couldn’t get out, but instead of posting cheques they could do PayPal.”
“It has been a tremendous five months in respect of community coming together but also the community giving back as well. We have had people who found themselves coming to our door when they never thought they would be in that situation.
“Once they got themselves sorted out to a certain degree their monies and furlough whatever, they started paying it back to us by making donations because they were so grateful to us for being able to provide for them.
“The Pantry mantra is ‘For those in hardship’. It doesn’t matter who you are if you need help the door is open.
“I think during Covid the Food Share value for Brechin was around £25,000. The shop was going through a major refurbishment so we did gain a lot of benefit from that.”
Kathy’s remit doesn’t stop there, though, with her membership pioneer role also taking her a wee bit further north – to Laurencekirk.
“In addition to that I look after the Laurencekirk area which is the Mearns Larder. The Co-op store there have been assisting the Larder, especially through Covid.
“They were based at the Mearns Academy but because the need was so great they had to move out and began using The Venue in Laurencekirk as their hub.
“The nursery school at Laurencekirk were already Food Share partners but during Covid their Food Share went to the Mearns Larder.
“However, over and above that the staff at the Co-op shop had collection buckets and a point for donations specifically for them and every were able to purchase on customers’ behalf your fresh milk, fresh bread, fresh produce so that was a full colleague get together that they organised and the community responded. That was a fantastic effort.”
Reflecting on five months where the community has pulled together to ensure everyone what they needed, Kathy has nothing but pride.
She continued: “It’s been awesome. You probably shouldn’t say that but it has and it has cemented the community in Brechin, Montrose and Laurencekirk – all around Angus. There was nowhere in a 20-mile radius that we weren’t helping.”
Food Share operates throughout all of the Co-op stores and it’s very easy to get involved.
Kirsty Ezady, Co-op area manager for Dundee, said: “We work with a wide number of Food Share partners across Dundee to ensure that our unsold food can help those within our communities that need it most.
“The scheme is based on honest and open community relationships and we’re honoured to play a small part in reducing food waste, but more importantly, feeding those that may be vulnerable and in need of help.”
Ivor Patterson, Co-op area manager, added: “Co-op stores in Perth take their role at the centre of the community very seriously and we are privileged to work with organisations such as Letham4all as part of our Food Share scheme.
“We’re passionate about ensuring that high-quality, fresh food that does not get sold, goes to those that need it most and the team at Letham4All work in partnership with us on a daily basis to make this happen”.
Co-op CEO Steve Murrells said: “It’s unbelievable that over a third of the food produced around the world goes to waste.
“We’re calling time on food waste and will take products off sale earlier to get fresh food with its use-by date to charities in time for them to cook or freeze.
“At the Co-op we want to strengthen and support communities and we are committed to tackling food waste and ensuring food gets into the hands of those who need it most.
“We work hard to reduce waste but believe any food that we don’t sell should end up feeding people, wherever possible.”
Community organisations keen to get involved in the Co-op’s Food Share scheme and help stop food waste can email email@example.com