“Sometimes the smallest thing is the biggest thing, such as being offered a cup of tea when you arrive.” – Volunteer participant, Dignity Project peer support programme
This principle is about people being able to enjoy food and access support that meets their needs. Community food providers should consider how the design and delivery of their projects can work to ensure people feel nourished and supported by being there – physically, emotionally and socially.
This principle asks community food providers to consider how their projects support people to access food that makes them feel nourished and respected. Community organisations should explore every opportunity to ensure that the food being sourced and provided through their initiative is high quality, culturally appropriate and socially acceptable.
Community food initiatives provide more than an immediate source of food. They can and should be designed as spaces of hospitality and support, where people feel welcomed and included. There is a big difference in the ‘look and feel’ of community food initiatives run for and with local community members and services designed ‘to feed people who are hungry’. What matters is that it is a place people feel good about spending their time, rather than having to as a last resort.
The food bank model is designed to supply basic provisions to people in a crisis, but this can limit the type and quality of food available to people. Processed items have a long shelf life and are easier to store and distribute, but they are often lower in nutrients and higher in fat, sugar and salt than fresh foods. Sourcing, stocking, storing and distributing food through emergency food parcels means that it can be difficult to include fresh produce, dairy and breads if the food bank is only open occasionally throughout the week or there is no consistent access to refrigeration.
When people experiencing food insecurity receive low-quality food, it can feel like a direct reflection of how much they are worth in the eyes of others. The reliance on public donations and surplus food means that staff and volunteers need to keep a close eye on stock management to ensure food does not go out of date. Participants at one project explained that being given food that was near or past the ‘best before’ date made them feel worthless – expected to eat food that had been deemed undesirable or inappropriate for people able to pay for it.
Community food initiatives are well positioned to provide people facing a crisis with longer-term support, but this depends on their ability to create an environment and space where people feel comfortable.
Many community food initiatives and food bank distribution sites are located in spaces that are available to them only at certain times of the week. Having to set up each week can make it difficult for staff and volunteers to create a warm and welcoming space. For example, if the hall is only opened for a couple of hours each week, it can be difficult to warm the space up sufficiently to make it comfortable for people. Community meals served with disposable cutlery and plates, because there is no time to wash up real ones, can make people feel that they are disposable too, rather than supported and nourished.
In some cases, people have been made to feel that their access to community food initiatives was dependent on their willingness to attend religious services or practice the faith in other ways. While some people may feel comfortable in a religious setting, the presence of religious symbols or suggestions that they should take part in religious activities can feel uncomfortable or excluding for people of a different or no faith.
“Dignity is being able to buy your 5 a day for your family.” – Focus group participant
What it takes for each individual to feel nourished and supported will depend on a wide variety of factors, including personal experiences of enjoying food and current circumstances related to health and well-being. However, paying attention to the quality of the food and how the space looks and feels, alongside working closely with local advice and support initiatives, can make a lot of difference. Involving people who take part in the project in decision-making and/or running the project is key to making sure the project meets people’s diverse needs.
Community organisations have a range of options available for sourcing high quality food to use in their projects. Examples include:
raising unrestricted funds, instead of asking for food donations, to purchase fresh produce directly from wholesalers and local producers;
registering with FareShare or using other surplus food systems;
growing fresh herbs, fruit and vegetables to use in community meals or distribute to community members;
partnering with local community growing projects or allotment groups to use surplus herbs, fruit and vegetables or to plan with them to grow the types of food that could be used by the project.
To access high quality and nourishing food, many community food providers are building relationships with local producers and suppliers. This can include working with local farmers in rural areas to access surplus fruit and vegetables to use in a freshly prepared community meal, or redistributing surplus fresh milk and yogurt from a local dairy to after school groups or supported accommodation. Organisations based in urban areas are making connections with community growing spaces and local businesses, such as restaurants and local shops, that have access to fresh produce at cost price through wholesale suppliers.
Logistical challenges in terms of sourcing, storing and using fresh produce can be overcome with sufficient resources and partnership working. For example, some organisations work together to distribute large quantities of surplus food from retailers to smaller projects throughout a local area. A single purchase of a freezer can help lower project costs by reducing food waste and enabling groups to buy and store fresh produce in larger quantities
“The café provides a safe, welcoming environment for people to socialise and make connections. The social aspect of the café has become as important as the food we provide.” – Staff participant, Dignity Project peer support programme
Establishing a welcoming space requires attention to detail, like providing fresh fruit, making sure the room is warm, welcoming someone with a smile or setting tables with real cutlery and glasses. Using signage that reflects the diversity of languages and cultures of the community is also an important part of creating an inclusive space. Although many community food initiatives are limited by a lack of resources, it is important to consider the many small things that affect participants’ feelings of social and emotional inclusion.
Spaces designed for people to build relationships and take part in community together provide non-stigmatising and effective opportunities to signpost someone experiencing food insecurity to relevant support services. Many staff and volunteers at community growing projects, for example, described how getting to know someone over a few gardening sessions could create a safe space for that person to share their story. Building trust and relationships provided an opportunity for the staff to offer appropriate support, such as helping the person to apply for a Scottish Welfare Fund crisis grant, arrange a meeting with a debt advice worker or approach a welfare rights support agency.
Growing, preparing and sharing food can be a positive and welcoming reason for people to come together, build relationships and chat over a cup of tea. Some people are more comfortable and confident in community settings than approaching formal advice services, so partnerships with community initiatives can be a good way for advice workers to reach people outside of their own offices. This works well when people have the option to discuss their situation in safe and private spaces, out of sight from other community members if they choose, which helps to avoid feeling that others will ‘know your business’.