Food For Thought

This East Devon food partnership is working locally to deliver surplus food to households that can benefit from it.

150 t
Est. annual reduction in carbon
emissions (tonnes CO2 eq)

16,000
Est. number of people
who benefit directly

Food for Thought's Story

Community development worker Victoria Robinson understood the need for fresh, wholesome food through the housing team and the close working relationships she had with tenants in her patch. As a keen environmentalist with 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 homes the next afternoon. At first, this scheme was only open to East Devon District Council tenants but soon Victoria realised the extent of the need locally. In the beginning Victoria delivered 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 Fareshare's service but their partners are guaranteed a set amount of food, making planning services and supporting families easier. Fareshare allows the partners to specify food from a list, which means what is delivered will not be wasted. Although the project had not yet started, the plans were progressing well- and then Covid hit.

The pandemic made things so much harder; Victoria had previously been working with local charity 'Exeter Food Action' distributing surplus food from supermarkets, but due to panic buying these supplies dwindled to almost nothing. Luckily, two local organic farms who suddenly weren’t able to sell at markets, were able to supply some vegetables.

About seven months into the pandemic, following DEFRA-funded food deliveries from Fareshare in Bristol and coronavirus support funding, 'Food for Throught' 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, which really helped build a network. This informal approach worked well with the group.

The project has been able to be responsive to needs. For example, when pupil's free school meals were going to be stopped during school holidays, two new projects were set up and brought into the project.

Victoria’s role is now to collect the project's data, 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 2021 that the East Devon food partnership project started up. This brings 500 kilos of surplus food each week from Fareshare, which is distributed by Exeter Food Action. This food is then shared between providers in Axminster, Broadclyst, Exmouth, Honiton, Ottery and Sidmouth, which means 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 East Devon Council's other work, such as poverty reduction aims and strategy.

Useful Learnings from Food for Thought

Building relationships and understanding the aims and needs of all the people we worked with was essential and something that takes time to fully understand.

Maintaining 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.

Encouraging all project workers to talk to each other via an informal WhatsApp group worked for us, so all providers can communicate with each other without us leading the conversation and people didn't feel we were trying to take over.

Managing expectations, e.g. what is possible within time frames and what food people will get. Iron out any 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!

Food for Thought's Metrics

Number of people using the service.
Amount of surplus food saved from disposal.
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Volunteer sorting through the community food.
Littleham Community Fridge up and running.
Project workers unpacking food supplies for the Community Fridge.