The Outer Hebrides Social Economy Partnership and its joint work with the local Food Club was one of three pilot areas we invested in during Spring 2023 to support local work to build a stronger community food sector, tackle health inequalities and poverty.
The Outer Hebrides Social Economy Partnership (OHSEP) provides support for social enterprises across the Hebrides. The Food Club (which is similar to a social supermarket, food co-op or pantry and uses a membership model) is based in a golf club in Stornoway. The golf club had re-purposed as a food bank whilst its other activities were halted during the COVID-19 pandemic, but were keen to continue to address local food insecurity through the cost of living crisis. OHSEP has supported the Food Club to develop and increase its social enterprise activities, including operating as a food hub for other community organisations.
How it works
The Food Club aims to attract a wide range of consumers and is keen to market itself as a membership co-op that provides access to affordable good food, including locally produced food where possible.
There is a food bank and a community fridge both within close proximity of the golf club, yet there was evidence that many locals requiring support were not using these services, therefore OHSEP and the golf club wished to test the Food Club model as a way to reduce the stigma of using a food bank, whilst offering subsidised shopping. Ensuring buy-in and involvement in the design of the Food Club from volunteers and people using the former golf club food bank was essential, including making sure that food from surplus food sources and local suppliers was all priced fairly as standard unit prices.
However, as the Food Club is based on the site of the former food bank, getting over the perceived stigma of being seen as a food bank has been challenging. OHSEP are planning to provide more support with marketing to address this. Despite this, the Food Club has a current membership of 104 – ranging from individuals, to households, and word of mouth seems to be helping to attract more people to join.
The Food Club also planned to develop as a local food hub that other organisations could source food from. The club has managed to source a wider range of foods, including locally produced fruit and veg. The local community fridge project now sources its food from the Food Club. Other organisations and food banks are still considering this. There are also plans to offer wholesale solutions for third sector organisations, such as community halls to deliver cooking events.
Pathways out of poverty and wider activities
As well as providing more dignified access to low-cost food, the volunteers sign-post people to income maximisation support by distributing the Independent Food Aid Network’s ‘Worrying about Money?’ leaflets and raising awareness of and supporting people with their local authority Child Payment applications. The volunteers also let people know about local cooking groups and other activities.
Revenue from the food purchased at the Food Club is modest, takings are around £250 per week, therefore the purchasing of stock currently still requires grant funding.
The local authority has extended financial support to the service to the beginning of the new year, the NHS have donated funds to purchase a van to enable easier distribution across the wider community.
Although people using the former food bank at the golf club were involved in the design of the Food Club, some did start using the local food bank after the Food Club opened. However, most people returned, reporting they preferred the wider range of affordable food choices that were available.
Increased collaboration with other partners.
OHSEP and the Food Club have continued to collaborate with other organisations and public sector colleagues around food insecurity and wider food issues, including supporting the development of the local food growing strategy, involvement with the Western Isles food partnership and the anti-poverty group. The Food Club aims to address some of the challenges that are highlighted within these strategies or by these groups, such as addressing food insecurity, increasing local food availability and getting local food to consumers.
Next steps are to work with Food Club members and those with lived experience of food insecurity locally to shape the rebranding of the service to minimise stigma and get support to those who need it, working with partners to support the extension of the food club models across the Western Isles.