Families with young children in Nottinghamshire are being supported with the cost of living through a network of FOOD Clubs which provide more affordable access to healthy ingredients.
Families with young children in Nottinghamshire are being supported with the cost of living through a network of FOOD (Food On Our Doorstep) Clubs. The clubs provide more affordable access to healthy ingredients as well as supporting families to cook and prepare family meals.
‘More than just a food bank’
Nottinghamshire County Council identified improving access to affordable and healthy food as a key priority back in 2018 as it started bidding for grant funding money from DHSC under the Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme. The council teamed up with the national charity Family Action to propose setting up an initiative to support local families with children under the age of five.
The FOOD Clubs model provides families with a nutritious mix of fresh and dried foods and encourages them to learn about healthy eating and cooking. Families make a contribution of £3.50 a week towards the cost. In return, they are provided with a food box worth up to £15.
This saves at least £300 per family over six months and also reduces waste in the food industry. The food is provided by FareShare, an organisation that takes good quality surplus food from the food industry and redistributes it to charities, breakfast clubs and homeless shelters.
To ensure good access and help tie the support in with wider children’s services, the FOOD Clubs have been located in settings such as the local children’s centre service, community halls and connected to churches.
They also work in partnership with other local services, including the integrated wellbeing service Your Health, Your Way, which has provided recipes and demonstration videos to inspire families to cook healthy meals together.
Senior Public Health and Commissioning Manager John Wilcox said: “Our research showed even back in 2018, families in our more disadvantaged areas were struggling with food insecurity – and that has only got worse.
“We launched the first two FOOD Clubs after the first national lockdown and it has gone from strength-to-strength, probably quicker than we ever imagined. I think Covid and now the cost of living crisis has meant there is a real demand.
“We have worked closely with local district and borough councils – in fact there is now a club running in every district and many are getting full. I think a factor in this is that during the lockdown we worked with local councils and voluntary sector partners to run the community support hub and food insecurity network, which brought partners together and so the FOOD Clubs have grown more rapidly because of that.”
Impact has been significant
There are now 21 FOOD Clubs thanks to extra money being provided by Nottinghamshire County Council’s Emergency Assistance and Social Recovery Funds on top of the Childhood Obesity Trailblazer Programme funding. They are supported by a small team of co-ordinators supplied by Family Action and volunteers.
Since the first FOOD clubs opened in November 2020 more than 1,700 families have accessed the clubs and nearly 20,000 bags of food have been distributed, amounting to approximately £230,000 saved for local families, with over 183 tonnes of food having been saved from landfill.
One of those who has been helped is Ray Hames and his family. He said: “It’s saving us a lot of money. It’s very handy to have when money is tight, at least we know that we will always be able to make meals such as lasagne with the mince provided. There are times that we can’t always afford items such as yogurts. It’s definitely value for money.”
Mr Wilcox said the FOOD Clubs have proved so popular that they are now looking at ways to make it sustainable as the funding from the trailblazer programme is running out in the next few months.
“It will be a model that evolves. We have been able to start allowing families to use their healthy start vouchers to use pay for the FOOD Clubs – they have a smart card with those vouchers on so it has become very user-friendly.
“But there are still challenges. Some of the feedback we have received shows there is still a stigma attached to using the FOOD Clubs. That is perhaps something we could look to address with the way they are marketed in the future.
“But they are clearly providing really vital support to families that is going to be needed for some time to come.”
Councillor John Doddy, Chairman of the Health and Wellbeing Board, agrees. He said: “We know that people are worried about the cost of living and we know things are difficult for families. These FOOD clubs show that we are committed to levelling up and reducing health inequalities.”
John Wilcox, Senior Public Health and Commissioning Manager, Nottinghamshire County Council: [email protected]