A government policy document a few years ago noted that, “Scotland has both a remarkable legacy as well as an admirable current resource in its social enterprises, community and voluntary sector.”
No-one likes to reinvent the wheel, be told by another project after hitting a snag that they could have told them where the pitfalls lay, learn about a funding source or training opportunity after the deadline or miss an opportunity to bring evidence they have generated to the attention of key planners and policy makers.
The country’s community food initiatives, despite focusing on local circumstances and experiencing increasing demand on their services, have always shown an enthusiasm to share their experience and evidence with both peers and policy makers.
Face to face, increasingly complemented by new technology and social media, Scotland’s community cafes, food co-ops, cooking classes and community gardens, operating in a variety of locations and circumstances, share evidence and opinions, information and insight, aspirations and frustrations. A critical friend who won’t shirk from telling things as they find them.
They won’t always agree with you, or each other, but collectively gauge the nature and scale of the challenges alongside the appetite and capacity for change.
I have always been delighted that our annual conference has attracted a mixed audience of volunteers, project staff, local authority/NHS fieldworkers, planners, policy makers and academics because that is the sectors, levels and disciplines that need to hear what each other have to say (places at this year’s event going fast!).
Reflecting after its first five years of operating, CFHS (or the Scottish Community Diet Project as it was known then) concluded that,“Community action is only one part of the national strategies on diet, health and social inclusion adopted by government. It adds however a crucial ingredient to the development and delivery of these and other interlinked policy agendas and could add even more, given the right support and encouragement.”
Fifteen years on the very well-intentioned desire, locally and nationally, to take a planned, joined-up and outcome-driven approach to food, health and inequalities can look at times to some like a plate of strategic spaghetti. It would be disastrous however if local communities felt discouraged with, or disassociated from, policy and strategy development. The effective conversion of policy into practice requires practice to be informing policy, within which the collective memory, emerging evidence and current experience of Scotland’s communities is a vital part of the recipe.