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Highland Poverty Action Network – adapting to Covid-19

This case study looks at how MOO Food and Inverness Foodstuff from Highland Poverty Action Network reconfigured their work in response to Covid-19; and how NHS Highland is working with the network to plan recovery.


Before the Covid-19 pandemic, work had already begun to bring organisations together to address poverty and food insecurity in the Highlands. Highland Third Sector Interface and Inverness Foodstuff ran a seminar in October 2019 that identified practical aims including establishing the following initiatives:

  1. WhatsApp group to improve communication between those offering surplus food and those who use it in Inverness
  2. Highland-based Surplus Food Collection and Distribution Service
  3. Highland Poverty Action Network

An initial meeting for Highland Poverty Action Network was held in December 2019, and around 30 organisations are now involved in the network. Between them they offer a range of services including home energy advice, mental health support as well as food services. NHS Highland and a Highland Councillor also attend the network meetings.

The network’s activities had only just got started when the lock-down began. Like many other areas, some of the organisations in the network reconfigured their work – many stopped their activities and most either developed or began food aid activities.

Curry and rice dish

MOO Food – communities coming together

What does MOO Food usually do?

MOO Food’s ‘Incredible Edible’ project includes the development of a community orchard and growing vegetables in the village that people can help themselves to. MOO Food also manages a Community Fridge, which is supplied with surplus food from individuals, companies or charities and where people help themselves to the food to ensure it doesn’t go to waste. MOO Food delivers behavioural change programmes themed around climate change and through this offers food growing workshops, cooking sessions and social meals.

During the lock-down

MOO Food worked in partnership with the Muir of Ord Development Trust to provide support to the local community. They set up a daily phone line for people needing support with food parcels, shopping, errands, dog walking, social calls and support information. They sent out flyers around every household in the community with the phone line information. They contributed to the local community kindness Facebook page which passed on requests for people either needing assistance or people offering help. MOO Food produced newsletters and sent these to every household with news of the support available and positive stories about lock-down within the community.  This Partnership also set up ‘Blether Together’ – a befriending service that started during lock-down and which will hopefully continue into the future.

Although the lock-down was challenging, people worked together in the community to try and address these challenges. Volunteers produced the newsletters and delivered these to households, volunteers managed the Community Fridge and both individuals and local companies provided such generous amounts of surplus foods for the Community Fridge that MOO Food was able to redistribute this to other areas that needed it.

Inverness Foodstuff – maintaining personalised and holistic support

What does Inverness Foodstuff usually do?

Inverness Foodstuff started the new year in the usual way by providing hot, nutritious three course meals every Tuesday and Thursday and soup and a lovely dessert on Saturdays in their cafe, providing the opportunity for 40 to 50 people to enjoy a community meal at each session. Many of the people that Foodstuff supports have experienced homelessness; are vulnerable and isolated or may have addiction issues.  Inverness Foodstuff facilitates a wide range of other services within the café such as welfare support, NHS mental health support, NHS breast and bowel screening, employment support as well as regular hairdressing opportunities and food bank referral. It also provides advice and arranges contact for a range of other services such as rape and sexual abuse and energy efficiency. This approach ensures a holistic approach to providing support.

During the lock-down

Inverness Foodstuff reacted and responded quickly and efficiently and altered the way they delivered their service to ensure the most vulnerable people were still receiving nutritious food as well as keeping both them and the team safe, complying with the government guidelines. They developed a distribution and delivery service as well as a helpline to meet the growing demand whilst ensuring peoples’ safety.Meals waiting to be delivered

Working with key partners such as In This Together and Acts of Kindness they provided a lunch delivery service, serving two or three course meals every day, 7 days a week. In February, prior to Covid-19 the cafe served 512 meals directly and a provided a further 152 take outs throughout the month. This figure increased substantially in April to 3604.  Although it was quieter in June compared to April and May, it still provided 1531 meals – considerably higher than February.

As the result of Covid-19 the service found the range of people they supported expanded, to include people such as those who were usually self-employed and those who were shielding or self-isolating. They also provided their lunch delivery service to people whose home needs had increased, but who were experiencing delays with support packages being implemented.

Inverness Foodstuff applied its personalised and holistic approach to its food aid services. For example it supported a parent who was having difficulties with the increased costs of food and fuel whilst the children were not at school. Inverness Foodstuff have supported her to get electricity top-ups as well as providing the lunch service when she needed it. They have also supported her with navigating the benefits system so that her children should receive free school meals when they are back in school.  Another example is an elderly woman in ill health whose care package had been delayed. The daily lunch delivery service ensured that she had daily socially distanced contact to check on her well-being.

As society returns to ‘some kind of normal’, Inverness Foodstuff, keen to ensure that it builds resilience rather than dependence, will return to operating 3 days per week. It is exploring a few options for how the service might look moving forward, taking into account the physical distancing guidance, the safety of the team as well as the participants and of course building resilience by reintroducing additional support they can access. In addition, it will retain the helpline, taking a brief overview of circumstances including a financial assessment of a person’s circumstances to ensure it provides the best service to those most in need whilst encouraging and promoting self sufficiency and independence.

Plans for recovery and dignified approaches across the network

NHS Highland and the Poverty Action Network are planning how they will help individuals after the lock-down and in the longer term future.

A key focus is to address some of the causes of the need for food aid. So, after linking in with the local authority welfare advice department and national agencies, NHS Highland have set up a sub group to plan meetings with the network members to discuss how to increase and improve conversations with individuals around money. The aim is to discuss ways to provide some help beyond signposting to welfare or money support, and using a more proactive approach such as following people up to ensure they received the support they needed.

However, like many others, the sub group is considering how to address the digital challenges of trying to bring people together to have these participatory discussions online and offer any relevant training.  The network also plans to map what recovery work is happening  across the Highlands and to make sure those with lived experience are heard and able to contribute to these discussions.

Meanwhile, the network’s aim of ensuring a more joined up approach to distributing surplus food was successful – having a Whats App group improved the co-ordination of supplies at a crucial time when some companies increased their food donations to organisations and a wider range of people required more support with accessing food.

The network also hopes to soon benefit from input from Community Food Initiatives North East as CFINE are expanding their surplus food redistribution service across the Highlands, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles.



Published: August 7, 2020