Community centres tackling food poverty

  • Community Centres Week is now in its sixth year
  • This year, the theme is food poverty
  • Community centres have many creative ways of supporting people with food-related projects

Food poverty is increasingly common in our society. Community centres play a vital role in combating it.

The theme of this year’s Community Centres Week is food poverty. Many community centres host or run projects tackling this issue. Here, we focus on three organisations doing different things to support people in their areas.

Byker Community Centre – Newcastle

Byker Community Centre’s ‘pay-as-you-feel’ supermarket and donation-based café were set up to tackle food waste and food poverty. Both are run in partnership with local companies and charities, with proceeds going back into the centre to support community projects and running costs.

Aly Smith, the centre’s engagement manager, said: “We initially set up these projects to address food waste, especially the volume that local supermarkets were putting into landfill. Most of this food was still in date, expensive and nutritious.

“However, we quickly became aware of the scale of issues around food poverty. We had some evidence that people were struggling but have since been overwhelmed by the amount of people suffering – people of all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities. Many are working, but many more are part of the transition to Universal Credit with no access to money for weeks.

“We are not a foodbank, so it is easy for people to access food as and when they need it – but the food goes so quickly – often we have days where we have nothing to give people.

“We are not funded to feed people. As a community centre, it is not always deemed appropriate to be ‘activists’. But we have no choice but to continue to do what we can to support the people in our community in this way.”

FoodCycle

FoodCycle is a national charity supporting people who are hungry and lonely, especially older people, low-income families, refugees, people with mental health problems and homeless people. Via 37 local projects, many operating out of community centres, they serve weekly three-course meals. The charity’s mission is to build communities, relieve loneliness and hunger, improve nutrition and reduce food waste.

Each week, volunteers serve more than 1,400 people using surplus food, cooked in spare kitchen space. Over 70% of guests attend a meal at least once a fortnight, and many attend once or twice a week. Over 80% of guests say they have made friends via the project and feel more a part of their community.

FoodCycle Hackney in London has operated out of the New Kingshold Community Centre since 2015. Volunteers cook a meal every Thursday for around 30 guests. One recent guest said: “I love coming to FoodCycle as it helps me meet new people”.

Bechange – Aylesham, East Kent

Bechange in Aylesham, Kent, serves a rural community, providing a safe space for local people to meet, learn new skills, improve job prospects, get advice and support, and have fun.

Manager Angela Doggett said: “In recent years, we have seen a sharp increase in the number of families affected by poverty. We find that because we are a community hub and our doors are open to everyone, there is less of a stigma to coming to our courses and projects.

“We use our large training kitchen to deliver free cookery courses.

“For example, Clash of Pans is for young people aged 11 to 16. Each week, we welcome eight young people to cook a recipe (such as veggie kebabs, chilli, or cupcakes) then we sit down together to eat it. The young people learn new skills and try cooking different things they might not get the chance to do at home. Most importantly, they get the chance to have fun and meet and make friends with other young people.

“Another session, Smart Families Get Fit Together, is for families with children aged 5-11. They come to play food-related games, then cook a meal which they sit down to eat together.”

Food4Thought is a six-week programme for adults. The group comes together once a week for 90 minutes and each cooks a meal to take home to share with their family.

Angela says: “During the sessions, we discuss topics such as budgeting and weekly food planning. We always offer one-to-one help for people who need extra help outside of the course. We work with partner agencies (such as NHS One You advisors, local schools, Children’s Centres, and the foodbank) to ensure that we can support those people who are most in need.

“We also issue foodbank vouchers. Many people who access the foodbank will end up receiving one-to-one support on issues such as unemployment, debt or benefit entitlements. We can then work with them to move forward in a positive way.”

“We also have fantastic partnerships with our local Co-op supermarkets who donate produce that has reached or passed its best before date. Items can be collected by people in the community,” says Angela.

“This gives us a brilliant way to help to people in need. It is often our first point of contact with someone. As well as reducing food waste, these donations may save people a few pounds. For some, they make a bigger difference – these items will stop them from going hungry that week.”

Image source: Foodcycle