The Haven Community Larder in Stonehaven is bracing itself – it now has a competitor.
After being impressed by the work going on at The Haven’s community larder, youngsters at Mill O’ Forest Nursery have set up their own “Mini Haven”.
Attendees at the nursery in the town’s Woodview Place created their own larder which became an excellent learning resource for the children.
“In Stonehaven we are very lucky to have such a wonderful resource supporting our families in what has been a very difficult year. Many of our children visit The Haven with their parents and staff have been encouraging the children to exploring this through play,” said early years senior practitioner Jackie Leith.
“It has turned into a very valuable learning experience for our children taking literacy, numeracy and health and wellbeing into focus.
“There has been a lot of discussion around healthy foods, why we need shops, how our families do their weekly shop and with the added bonus of real money the children have really embraced the concept.”
Many children give their teachers a present before the festive break, but this year the nursery youngsters donated to the pantry instead.
“At Christmas, we asked our parents to donate to The Haven instead of giving the staff treats and many took their children to The Haven to follow this through,” added Jackie.
“Staff have also kept parents up to date with what has been needed at The Haven through our online learning journey App – Seesaw.
“When the children return from the Easter break we plan to design posters advertising The Haven throughout the community.”
The Haven has thanked the Mill O’ Forest children for their special efforts by giving them a gift of their own.
Jackie continued: “We have been very lucky as The Haven has gifted every child in nursery a wonderful bear, which they will take home as a surprise this Thursday.
“Our thanks go to Julia at the Haven for organising wonderful gifts which was not expected but very much appreciated.
“We also need to thank 20 Stonehaven shops, businesses and cafes for displaying numbered Easter Egg designs the children have been busy creating for an Easter Egg Hunt which starts this Friday.
“We hope all the Stonehaven children will join Mill O’ Forest Nursery to find all 20 eggs.”
Director at The Haven Julia Morton was thrilled when she heard about the “Mini Haven” at Mill O’ Forest.
“We didn’t even know they were doing it,” she said. “They asked if we had any material that was appropriate. We are doing a drawing competition so we sent them some stuff for that and we sent them some knitted teddies as well.
“We are also getting little aprons for them which have Haven Community Larder on them, but I don’t think we will get them before they break up for Easter.
“Hopefully they will do it again and they will have their own little aprons then.”
Julia believes that the nursery youngsters learning about the work they do at The Haven can help to remove much of the stigma that can be attached to accessing food.
“We take an early intervention and prevention approach to everything that The Haven does so we never want people to crisis point, our community from an environmental standpoint reach crisis point or our wellbeing reach crisis point, so I think it’s inspiring what they are doing.
“It is starting that conversation very young about food waste and the ‘shame’ around having to access food that is going to be thrown away anyway which is ridiculous. I’ve no idea how we got to this point with so much food being thrown away or could be thrown away.
“One of the members of staff at the school had had an experience with The Haven while they were shielding and found it really helpful and had decided it would be a good opportunity to start a conversation with the nursery kids around food and food waste, that it is OK to go and access food, and it is OK if you need to access food this is available in your community.”
The Haven has made efforts to be a welcoming place for youngsters to visit in the last 12 months when young children, especially, might have been fearful of visiting shops.
“When the pandemic started a lot of children weren’t keen on going into shops because of the fear, but we tried to create a welcoming environment and always made sure we had little trollies for the kids and it made it a very positive experience for them.
“I think it’s very interesting that it is being driven by the kids, who can say ‘Mummy / daddy there is this in the community can we go there?’ because there is a different approach to it.
“Stonehaven is perceived as being a middle class area so therefore is seen that it doesn’t have trauma or doesn’t have much food poverty. I’m still working out how much of this is pandemic related and how much is a hidden poverty issue from beforehand.”
Meanwhile, a crowdfunder The Haven set up to ensure they could continue their vital community work smashed its target and some.
They asked for £22,000 and they received £31,000 in total which, combined with some funding and generosity from Aberdeenshire Council, has given them an option now to extend their services.
Julia said: “From a monetary standpoint it was amazing but what was most important was the social capital all the things that money can’t buy – the community support, kindness, engagement, wanting to be involved and community spirit, those are the things that really allow you to keep going.
“The crowdfunder was successful from an operational standpoint because it meant we can concentrate on doing the work we want to do for the community without having the fact that we might have to close the doors behind us looming over us all the time. It has given us some breathing space.
“We were also fortunate to get some funding, then Aberdeenshire Council stepped in and gave us a space with a kitchen in it so it has been really, really special.”
Recently, The Haven was keen to find out exactly who used the larder and why. And to that end they launched a consultation which has shone a light on things.
Julia continued: “We asked people who have engaged with the larder what they thought of it and 80% were five-star experience and the rest were pretty much four-star experience.
“And the other fact to come out was that 98% of the people who engage with us don’t use foodbanks which I found interesting as it means the majority of people who use us are already working – on minimum wage and can’t make ends meet or are on furlough and that 20% reduction difference in income means they are struggling.
“These people were either slipping through the cracks beforehand or the pandemic just put enough pressure on them to seek help or there was an option in the community that was available to them.
“In addition, 50% of people who engage with us want to help reduce food waste or help the community and understand that by coming they are giving permission for someone else who finds it hard to come.
“The other 50% are people who genuinely need it to meet their basics. I think that’s a healthy approach and it should be 50/50 by wanting to reduce food waste and supporting people through that.
“It’s been really insightful because we were really only guessing before. We knew how many people were visiting, but not why or when.”
Thanks to Aberdeenshire Council, they are now based at Stonehaven Community Centre, operating out of the Seaview Café, which will provide an opportunity for The Haven to move to the next level.
“It’s amazing that we now have this space,” said Julia. “We have better accessibility as we were carrying two tons of food up flights of stairs before.
“It was fine as a temporary measure but having access to our kitchens is our next phase – we would love to be able to offer meals with the produce that we use.
“Castleton Farm Shop have been amazing at giving us nutritious meals and we would love to be able to supplement that and offer that ourselves.
“That’s the next step. We have already launched our Roots to Resilience Growing Project and two weekends ago we moved 150kg of tattie seed for planting.
“We have a Facebook Group and people are talking about growing food, and we partnered with Pillar, our local mental health charity, who have allotments and they are growing food for the larder as well.
“It’s a fact that growing food for others really improves your wellbeing. Our hope is that the kitchen and the growing project will help the community to move to that kind of resilience.”