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Food alone won’t fill hungry tummies

Most people would agree that tackling food poverty isn’t just about access to healthy affordable food.

Whilst this is a big part of the solution, only doing this will not fix the problem of malnutrition, and many neglect the impact of lack of equipment, confidence, and enough money to pay for firing up the oven. In Plymouth, they're offering a more holistic approach.

Getting to the root of the problem

For Darin Halifax, Chief Service Officer for Plymouth, their Cities of Service programme ‘Our Plymouth’ was set up in response to the Fairness Commission recommendation that people need help to access healthier food. Further still, unhealthy diets are one of four lifestyle behaviours that leads to 54% of deaths in the city.

We can help change this by encouraging people to grow and cook their own fresh fruit and vegetables, and making it easier and cheaper for people to do this

Seeds of change

Supply of fresh, healthy food was a good starting point: they’ve been working with Tamar Grow Local since October 2014 to not only recruit more volunteers to their growing projects but also to create more growing spaces. This supply of freshly grown fruit and veg now allows nearly 100 low income families in the city to receive free fruit and veg boxes for a year, and there’s enough surplus to supply food banks and soup kitchens around the city, with over 650 users benefitting in the last 9 months. Even better, the surplus is being sold at low cost to help generate funds to keep the work going sustainably.

Making food fun

Secondly, they looked to help people get creative on a budget, with a series of cooking classes run by Food is Fun. It’s taking on a life of its own, participants are building their confidence and exploring how they could run sessions one-on-one. There may even be a cookbook in the pipeline.

So far, so good. But growing and cooking classes are usually where many food growing projects stop.

No money for the meter

In Plymouth, they also wanted to address the issue of the cost of cooking - food poverty goes hand in hand with fuel poverty. Their volunteer Energy Champions, in partnership with Plymouth Energy Community, are helping hundreds of households across the city to introduce energy saving measures or switch suppliers to help them save on average £170 per year. That energy saving means that people can afford to cook as well as stay warm in their homes.

Stocking the shelves... and the kitchen

Further still, this week, the team behind Grow, Share, Cook are holding a Pots and Pans amnesty, encouraging residents to dig out the old pots, pans and other kitchen essentials that they no longer use to donate to others who need to build their supply. In this way, the families most in need are getting access to the right foods, skills in growing and cooking, and the resources (fuel and equipment) needed to put it all into action on a more sustained basis.

Councillor Chris Penberthy, Cities of Service Ambassador for Plymouth sees the Pots and Pans Amnesty as a great opportunity to make use of unwanted items, recycling them so that those who need them can use them. This follows on the back of their successful Seed Giveaway early this year, where the local garden centre donated hundreds of seeds for residents to try their hand at growing their own - a great way to keep fit and healthy in the outdoors as well as the satisfaction of eating your own fruit and veg.

Joining the dots

Whilst each of these individual elements of Grow, Share, Cook and Energy Champions would work to address part of the problem on their own, their power comes in the combination and holistic approach - genuinely helping solve the issue from farm to fork. By using the Our Plymouth brand, Darin has been able to bring together internal and external partners to create an end-to-end solution that delivers much more than the sum of its parts. This approach is starting to have an impact on families and households in Plymouth on their diets and lifestyles - it’s starting point which can hopefully be used to consistently address some of the greatest challenges in the city.

Listings image credit: Frédérique Voisin-Demery - Mon assiette vide via Flickr


Meera Chadha

Meera Chadha

Meera Chadha

Programme Manager

Meera was a Programme Manager in the Innovation Lab working in the Centre for Social Action to support social innovations to scale their reach and grow their impact. She led Cities of …

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