Victoria Robinson explained that through the housing team and the close working relationship she had with tenants in her patch she understood the need for fresh, wholesome food. As a keen environmentalist and with her local knowledge she was able to approach supermarkets to rehome surplus food, saving it from the bin. Victoria would collect waste food from local supermarkets one evening and deliver it to home the next afternoon. At first this scheme was only open to EDDC tenants but soon Victoria realised the extent of the need locally. In the beginning Victoria was delivering to 13 local families but soon this work was more than she could accommodate and she began looking around for alternative strategies.
In September 2019 Victoria started chatting with Fareshare, a charity working with big suppliers to distribute surplus food. There is a small charge for the service but the partners are guaranteed a set amount of food, making planning their service and supporting families easier. Fareshare allow the partners to specify food from a list, which means what is delivered will not be wasted. The plans were progressing well although the project had not started – and then Covid hit.
The pandemic made things so much harder, as we had been working with Exeter Food Action a local charity that distributes surplus food from supermarkets but due to panic buying these supplies dwindled to almost nothing. Two local organic farms were able to supply us with some vegetables as suddenly they weren’t able to sell at markets.
About seven months into the pandemic DEFRA funded some food deliveries from Fareshare based in Bristol and supplementing this with coronavirus support funding we were able to start working with food providers based in Axminster, Ottery St Mary and Honiton.
Victoria set up a WhatsApp group that allowed everyone to easily communicate and this really helped build a network – the informal approach worked well with this group.
The project has been able to be responsive to need, when the free school meals were going to be stopped for pupils in the holidays, two new projects were set up and we brought them into the project.
Victoria’s role is now to collect the data and keep up to date on legislation and disseminate this information to the group as they need it.
In April 2021 the DEFRA funding stopped and it wasn’t until August that the East Devon food partnership project started up. This brought 500 kilos of surplus food each week from Fareshare based in Bristol and then is distributed by Exeter Food Action. This food is then shared between providers in Axminster, Broadclyst, Exmouth, Honiton, Ottery and Sidmouth meaning that nearly all the major towns in East Devon are covered.
Ottery St Mary community larder has more than 100 visitors a week and they have noticed a sharp increase in demand.
This project fits in with our other work such as our poverty reduction aims and strategy.
Building relationships and understanding the aims and needs of the all the people we worked with was essential and something that takes time to fully understand.
Maintain support with info about grants and funding, many of our smaller volunteer groups are too busy doing the day job to take on additional tasks such as grant funding searches for example. Encourage them to talk to each other an informal WhatsApp group worked for us so all providers can communicate with each other without us leading so it wasn’t felt we were trying to take over.
Manage expectations – what is possible in time frames, what food they will get. Iron out disagreements – which there will always be.
Chivvying all parties along is important. With so many different professionals involved it’s easy for one to take their eye off the ball and delay things so regular requests for updates are important. Then passing information down the chain to the providers so they had an idea of what was happening.
Don’t make promises or set deadlines. Again with so many groups involved it was easy for things to change and slip. The deliveries were supposed to start at Christmas 2019 but it was August 2021 before things started fully!
Amount of surplus food saved from disposal.