Sadly North Lanarkshire Food Aid closed because of a lack of funding. It supported people facing hardship and extreme food poverty. It used 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 worked with several partners involved in running food banks and other emergency food aid services in North Lanarkshire. It supported and supplemented their work by offering a home delivery service where necessary, and filled in the wide gaps between food bank locations.
How it worked
NLFA was 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 referred clients to the project. This ensured that their need was genuine and that no alternative support was available.
NLFA targeted people in crisis situations (e.g. redundancy, debt, illness, low pay or benefits issues) but deliberately did not issue criteria for referral, leaving this up to professional judgement. Clients could 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 was chosen to provide nutritionally balanced meals and includes fresh fruit and vegetables. Clients were encouraged to collect their packs from their local community food co-op, although a home delivery option was available.
Clients were offered an information pack that included recipes for nutritious, low cost, easy to prepare food, information on LCFHP healthy eating workshops, and details of local services which offered support to those facing hardship and material deprivation e.g. fuel poverty agencies, citizens advice offices, housing associations etc.
Food aid recipients also received 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 hoped that the food aid recipients would 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 had 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 were open to all members of the local community.
The workshops were 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 was then carried out by LCFHP staff.
NLFA was funded through the Big Lottery ‘Support and Connect’ fund and the Scottish Government’s ‘Emergency Food Fund’.
The initial challenge was to identify and engage with referral partners. This was mostly achieved, although further work was 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 was made in developing the supply chain. Scotmid agreed to support the work of NLFA, and supplied all grocery products at cost price.
As part of its response to food poverty in the area, North Lanarkshire Council paid the membership costs for seven organisations to join Glasgow
FareShare. LCFHP acted 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 also used in the food parcels distributed through NLFA.