North Lanarkshire Food Aid supports people facing hardship and extreme food poverty. It uses a range of co-ordinated interventions designed to deliver a more holistic and longer-term approach than food banks have historically been able to offer.
Lanarkshire Community Food and Health Partnership (LCFHP) has been promoting and supporting healthy eating initiatives since 1990.
In October 2013 it started up North Lanarkshire Food Aid (NLFA), originally an 18-month project, in response to the dramatic rise in extreme food poverty experienced in Lanarkshire. The project works with several partners involved in running food banks and other emergency food aid services in North Lanarkshire. It supports and supplements their work by offering a home delivery service where necessary, and fills in the wide gaps between current food bank locations.
How it works
NLFA is made up of seven connected strands: referrals, emergency food aid, information pack, transition support, community food co-ops, healthy eating workshops and a food aid nutritionist.
Frontline staff from agencies such as NHS Lanarkshire Locality Teams, North Lanarkshire Council, Scottish Women’s Aid and Citizens Advice refer clients to the project. This ensures that their need is genuine and that no alternative support is available.
NLFA targets people in crisis situations (e.g. redundancy, debt, illness, low pay or benefits issues) but has deliberately not issued criteria for referral, leaving this up to professional judgement. Clients can be referred to just part of the service.
Emergency food aid
NLFA originally had funding for 1500 individual packs, designed either for adults or children, to support households in crisis and unable to access food banks.
The produce within the packs has been chosen to provide nutritionally balanced meals and includes fresh fruit and vegetables. Clients are encouraged to collect their packs from their local community food co-op, although a home delivery option is available.
Clients are offered an information pack that includes recipes for nutritious, low cost, easy to prepare food, information on LCFHP healthy eating workshops, and details of local services which offer support to those facing hardship and material deprivation e.g. fuel poverty agencies, citizens advice offices, housing associations etc.
Food aid recipients also receive two dated food vouchers (£4 per voucher for individuals and £10 per voucher for families) redeemable at LCFHP’s network of 29 community food co-ops across North Lanarkshire. The food co-ops provide competitively-priced, high quality, fresh and non-perishable food. LCFHP hopes that the food aid recipients will continue to use the food co-ops in the longer term.
The project initially provided recipients with four vouchers, but this proved too costly, because of the higher than anticipated demand for food parcels
Community food co-ops
Food co-ops offer reduced food costs in the long term, and provide a signpost to relevant local services.
Healthy eating workshops
All referred households have the opportunity to participate in healthy eating workshops covering cooking on a budget, cooking skills, nutrition advice, food safety etc. The target was to offer support to 500 people over the 18 month period. The workshops are open to all members of the local community.
The workshops are run by a qualified and experienced nutritionist who is employed full-time as part of the NLFA project.
Food aid coordinator
NLFA employed a food aid coordinator in its first year, who worked with LCFHP’s network of food wholesalers, producers and suppliers to secure food donations, or significant reductions in buying prices, for NLFA and its food bank partners. The co-ordinator’s work is now carried out by LCFHP staff.
NLFA was funded through the Big Lottery ‘Support and Connect’ fund. It is now funded through the Scottish Government’s ‘Emergency Food Fund’, until March 2016.
The initial challenge was to identify and engage with referral partners. To date this has mostly been achieved, although further work is required to ensure that the larger agencies are active across all of their localities and levels. During November 2013 the main partner agencies were trained on the use of the computerised referral system in a gradual rollout to ensure that warehousing and delivery systems were not overloaded and that existing customers were not affected.
The target for emergency food packs was around 20 per week (1,500 over 18 months, starting November 2013). NLFA decided at an early stage to bring referral partners onto the system gradually to ensure that it was able to meet demand effectively.
By January 2014, deliveries were running at twice the target rate, with further agencies still to come online. NLFA was able to analyse why this figure was as high as the referral process has a reason code. Almost 60% of referrals were because no local food bank existed. Of the rest, 30% were because the food bank was unable to support a client due to demand, or because the client could not physically get to the food bank to collect the emergency aid.
By November 2014 NLFA had provided 2400 food packs.
Cooking and healthy eating classes also started in November 2013. Demand has currently much higher than anticipated in the original project plan. Three months into the project, 205 people had attended 31 sessions. The target for the 18-month period was 500 attendees.
The food co-op voucher initiative follows on after the initial emergency food packs are delivered and used. Around 55% of vouchers issued are used.
Significant progress has been made in developing the supply chain. Scotmid has agreed to support the work of NLFA, and it is now supplying all grocery products at cost price, which will either allow more packs to be supplied during the 18-month period, or will extend the life of the project.
As part of its response to food poverty in the area, North Lanarkshire Council has paid the membership costs for seven organisations to join Glasgow
FareShare. LCFHP acts as the local spoke, delivering produce to the other groups that are working with NLFA. The groups use the food obtained through
FareShare in their cafés, community meals, soup kitchens and food banks. Some of the food is also used in the food parcels distributed through NLFA
NLFA was designed to work within the North Lanarkshire community food co-op network. Through discussions with South Lanarkshire Council, a similar successful bid was made to the Big Lottery Fund in September 2013. With this funding, a network of food co-ops across key locations in South Lanarkshire is being set up, and support provided to nurture the growing number of food banks in the area.