East Dunbartonshire Food Co-ops

The food co-ops in Hillhead and Lennoxtown offer access to good quality, low-cost, fresh fruit and vegetables and to volunteering opportunities, where people can develop new skills and get involved in their community.
Man and woman behind table displaying bananas and other food

Background

The East Dunbartonshire Food Co-ops launched in March 2010, delivered by the East Dunbartonshire Community Health Partnership (CHP). The project was established in response to results from the East Dunbartonshire Community Planning Partnership Household survey which noted that only 40% of people living within areas of deprivation consumed at least five portions of fruit and/or vegetables per day.

In developing the proposal for a food co-op, local residents were consulted using the National Standards for Community Engagement. This grassroots approach helped to overcome initial cynicism in the community due to years of projects starting and stopping.

The project was set up by the CHP and Hillhead Housing Association 2000. The CHP provided the resources to employ two members of staff: a development worker and mobile support worker, who were tasked with establishing local volunteer-led food co-ops. During its initial start up phase, a multi-agency steering group, from both statutory and voluntary agencies, was established to help steer and direct the development of the food co-ops.

The first food co-op launched was at Hillhead Community Centre, quickly followed by three more at community locations in Kirkintilloch, and one in Lennoxtown.

A key outcome was always to establish the project as an independent self-sustaining voluntary organisation. In 2012, the a steering group began to re-organise and set up East Dunbartonshire Food Co-ops’ Advisory Group, a registered charity, with a management committee including a chairperson, secretary and treasurer. The new organisation includes interested citizens, as well as representatives from the CHP, East Dunbartonshire Voluntary Action (EDVA), Hillhead Community Forum and Hillhead Housing Association. Its purpose is to provide advice, access to training, financial backing and fundraising support to existing food co-ops and encourage new food co-ops across East Dunbartonshire.

At the same time, the number of volunteers in Kirkintilloch reduced and it was decided to concentrate efforts on two co-ops, Hillhead and Lennoxtown.

Over the last year further challenges have been experienced by the Hillhead co-op. Initially the co-op had to relocate due to the demolition of the local community centre, and then its temporary home, a local church, had a serious fire. In October 2014 it is set to move back into the brand new community centre. In addition a well known local discount retailer has opened up close to Hillhead and this has enticed a number of regular customers away from the food co-op.

On the other hand Lennoxtown Food Co-op, which runs from Campsie Memorial Hall, experienced a period of continued volunteer and customer support and this was reflected within its consistently high sales. More recently, the food co-op has had to take stock and review its operation; however, it is still operating and this is down to the commitment from the local volunteers.

How it works

Hillhead Food Co-op runs on most Tuesdays 10am to 1pm, and Lennoxtown most Saturdays at the same time.

Initially the mobile support worker would uplift food supplies from a central point and deliver them to the separate food co-ops. Any unsold fruit and vegetables remaining went to a storage location. However, the Advisory Group identified and approached a farmer, based in Slamannan near Falkirk, proposing that they deliver fruit and vegetables to the co-ops on stall days and uplift any unsold produce afterwards. The farmer accepted this proposal so now there is no need for transport or storage.

Stalls are set up by volunteers who display the fruit and vegetables in baskets set out on a table covered by a synthetic grass tablecloth. They use weighing scales and a till to sell food. Healthy Start vouchers are accepted as well as cash.

Volunteers are trained in:

  • using scales
  • using a till and cash handling
  • stock ordering (using email) and stocktaking, both before and after the session
  • food hygiene (accredited by REHIS).

A lead volunteer has overall responsibility for the stalls, and cashes up at the end of the session, paying the farmer out of takings.

EDVA provide practical support for the committee and community group volunteers. They also provide office space, opportunities to network with other agencies, help identifying appropriate funding streams, and help with promoting the food co-ops as a volunteering experience.

Funding

The Advisory Group has been successful in applying for annual funding from the CHP and in their bid for funding a series of cookery courses. Applications have also been made to other local and national based organisations for continued funding to support the existing and future plans for the food co-ops.

Challenges

Hillhead Food Co-op has had a difficult time keeping the momentum generated in the initial project going for a variety of reasons, including the demographic (many very young families and elderly people), a history of low community engagement, and frequent venue changes. However, diversification into other healthy food-based initiatives (see below) has helped, and the brand new community centre marks a new start for the co-op.

Achievements

Lennoxtown now has a highly motivated group of volunteers. Although fruit and vegetables are sold at nearly cost price, the co-op manages to generate a surplus (£1,300 in 2013) which is donated to Campsie Memorial Hall to help fund community events like Halloween and Christmas parties. Their motto is ‘locally sourced, keenly priced’.

A ‘Smoothie Bike’ which young people (and adults!) use to make their own smoothies at community events has been a great success for both food co-ops.

In 2013 a sub-group of co-op volunteers with a passion for passing on cookery skills was formed and made an application for funding for a series of six cookery courses and various taster sessions. These are aimed at different groups (e.g. cooking on a budget, weaning, and older people) and have been very successful.

A visit to CFINE (West Lothian) early in 2014 has inspired the advisory group to look at the bigger picture for the organisation and to start discussing ideas for new projects.

Quotes from volunteers

“As someone returning to work after illness, I have had a lot of encouragement to allow me to volunteer in this project. At times there has been a real learning curve but I have had support to help me gain new skills while having fun and learning a lot of new recipes.”

“I was asked to help out after I was made unemployed. I’m glad I did. I have learned new skills while using the skills I had. I’ve made so many new friends and have gained back a lot of confidence which I’d lost.”

“Without the volunteers and their dedication, passion and commitment, the project would not have worked.”

“It’s a great link to the community and as a team we all gel together and support one another. I get loads of satisfaction from volunteering – as much as someone would get from playing a sport.”

“If I hadn’t been ill I would never have attended ‘conditioning management’ which directed me to the volunteering project. This project has directed me back into part-time employment after more than 20 years so good can come out of bad.”

Published: March 27, 2015